Executed in the summer of 1984, Das Liebespaar (The Lovers) is the first of a number of intimate works that mark a period of transition in Baselitz's work. This transition was characterised by a move away from the primarily religious themes that had dominated his art during the first half of the year towards a more personal and psychologically powerful art that translated the religious feeling of these earlier paintings into more a more intimate and personal subject matter.
Following on from his reinterpretation of two masterpieces of German Expressionism, Edvard Munch's The Scream and Emil Nolde's Last Supper, Baselitz's paintings from this period are notable for their highly reductive use of colour and form. In addition to his trademark upside-down image and raw and vigorous brushwork these dramatic paintings employ large flat areas of strong colour in a way that creates a highly reduced and almost schematic flattening of form. Baselitz's forms and figures become little more than a cohesive conglomeration of vibrant brushstrokes and this limits the figurative understanding of the painting but also accentuates the overall mood generating a psychological tension between the subject matter the emotive power of Baselitz's strong colours.
Das Liebespaar also represents one of the earliest appearances of a wide-mouthed blond-haired woman - an archetypal figure in his work and one that seems to have haunted Baselitz's art at this time. Referring to his attempt at painting works by other artists at this time he recalled the spectre of this woman writing: "I paint artists whom I admire, I paint their pictures, their work as painters and their portraits too. But oddly enough, each one of these portraits ends up as a picture of a woman with blonde hair. I myself have never been able to work out why this happens." (Quoted in Georg Baselitz exh. cat., New York, Solomon. R. Guggenheim Museum, 1995, pp. 149).
In Das Liebespaar her appearance is less surprising given the context of the subject matter, yet Baselitz has always been careful to insist that the subject matter of his paintings is of little importance and for this reason alone he has never used a model. This is a feature of his aesthetic that Baselitz insists distinguishes it from that of the German Expresssionists :"People were starting to say that my works had a link with German Expressionism. In fact this only applies to the way I handle the canvas, my manual use of the canvas. I have never had any relationship with Expressionism. In fact I have always wondered why it was so alien to me. The reason is that the Expressionists use a method that illustrates our environment, the world we live in I have always invented the objects and the various figurations that I wanted to show. I have never had a model. That is something that has remained entirely alien to me, something that does not suit me at all." (Ibid, pp. 149-150).
In this respect, the woman in Das Liebespaar remains a mystery, even though the prevailing mood of intimacy combined with a certain psychological tension that is set up by the body language of the figures in the painting, does not.
Fig. 1 Edvard Munch, Death of Marat, II, 1907, Munch Museum