‘Standing within a long tradition of German art, and using time honoured media, Baselitz has striven constantly to confront the realities of history and art history to make the new and fresh in a manner that can only be described as heroic; heroic because his art has consciously gone against the grain of fashion, while always remaining modern’ (N. Rosenthal, ‘Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter’, in Baselitz, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London 2007, p. 15).
‘The Heroes paintings represent an extraordinary achievement for the artist, for in their image he found himself. Painted in less than a year, they have continued to inform all his subsequent work. Issues concerning the fgure, form, colour and line, with which he had experimented since his student days, were resolved in these canvases’ (D. Waldman, quoted in Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1995, p. 56).
‘Baselitz set out in earnest to go to extremes in violating conventional principles of pictorial construction... The “Fracture Paintings” mark a further stage in Baselitz’s strategy of placing increased emphasis on the formal and painterly aspects of his work’ (A. Franzke, Georg Baselitz, Munich 1989, p. 91).
Rendered with thick, vibrant impasto in rich earthbound hues, Georg Baselitz’s Malermund, 1966, is situated at the critical turning point between his ‘Hero’ paintings of the previous year and the ‘Fracture’ works that inaugurated a new aesthetic trajectory within his oeuvre. Following on from the post-apocalyptic protagonists purportedly modeled on his own form, here Baselitz reinvigorates the strains of self-portraiture that lace his early practice. The work’s title – Painter’s Mouth – is evocative of his own doubts about the voice of painting in the post-War era. Allegorizing the role of the artist in a newly-divided world, Baselitz’s fractured fgure transposes the gravitas of the ‘Heroes’ onto a new rural archetype: a humble woodsman whose craft is his trade. Having made his seminal move to the countryside during the year of the present work, Baselitz cast fresh eyes upon traditional Germanic imagery rooted in nature, moving away from the desolate post-War wastelands that dominated the ‘Hero’ paintings. Yet these new works were far from bucolic idylls: re-engaging the symbols of his native ancestry, Baselitz began a subversive process of unhinging their solidity through his radical fracturing technique. Wrenching apart his fgures through incisions and repetitions, Baselitz deforms his folkloric, pastoral characters through abstract processes of rupture and relocation. Teutonic men and beasts become strange half-beings, caught in a state of anamorphosis. Simultaneously embracing and rejecting his own heritage, Baselitz initiated a process of visual dislocation that, by 1969, would give way to his signature fullyinverted paintings. Held in the same distinguished private collection for over 40 years, Malermund witnesses Baselitz attempting to come to terms with a new artistic language – a language that was still haunted by his own self-image. Part- ‘Hero’, part painter, part deformed Germanic stereotype, the fgure is symbolic of Baselitz’s conficted sense of identity: silenced and divided, his fractured form strains to articulate a new visual paradigm. Other ‘Fracture’ paintings from this important period are housed in major museum collections, including Woodsmen, 1967-68 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), Katzenkopf, 1966-67 (Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland) and Two Meissen Woodsmen, 1967 (Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich).
For Baselitz, fracturing was not simply a case of abstract formal play: rather, it was a means of distancing himself from the powerful Germanic symbolism of his chosen imagery. Having grown up in East Germany before taking up permanent residence in West Berlin in 1958, Baselitz felt himself to be an outsider, and his complex relationship with his own national and artistic roots was to become one of the driving forces within his oeuvre. Still scarred by the atrocities of the Second World War, and now isolated from Western Europe, the city had provided the impetus for the ‘Heroes’ – lone, primordial versions of himself that wandered in deserted, war-torn landscapes. It was in 1966 that Baselitz and his young family made a decisive move to the countryside, occupying a large peasant house in the rural setting of Osthofen. Here, his bleak, disenfranchised fgures gave way to a new set of characters, including huntsmen, dogs, game animals and woodsmen: subjects that spoke to his nation’s romantic past and man’s relationship to the natural world. The colours of the forest – a veritable camoufage of olive green, mahogany, grey and umber – came to dominate the artist’s palette, creating a fresh, fertile counterpart to the sombre tones of his previous output. It was within this new visual setting that Baselitz was able to begin to question the endurance of his chosen motifs, submitting them to rigorous processes of formal disturbance. Yet, as the present work so eloquently demonstrates, Baselitz was unable to erase the memory of the ‘Heroes’ from his work; recast as a prosaic rural type, the fgure that dominates Malermund is indicative of this transition. Though harking back to of an age of natural innocence, the fgure is haunted by the dark, self-refective overtones of those gaunt, lost characters. In this regard, the work shares much in common with the iconic B for Larry, 1967 (Friedrich Christian Flick Collection), whose protagonist is similarly torn between two worlds, captured in a state of transformation.
Attempting to carve a new place for painting in a world that had declared it dead, Baselitz’s fracturing strategy allowed him to foreground the materiality of the painted canvas, permitting his medium to gain a level of independence from its subject matter. Indeed, it was this aspect of his practice that subsequently marked Baselitz out as a leading fgure within the Neo-Expressionist movement that drove the development of painting in the 1970s and 1980s. As Andreas Franzke has described, ‘Baselitz set out in earnest to go to extremes in violating conventional principles of pictorial construction... The “Fracture Paintings” mark a further stage in Baselitz’s strategy of placing increased emphasis on the formal and painterly aspects of his work’ (A. Franzke, Georg Baselitz, Munich 1989, p. 91). Whilst other examples witness a complete division of the canvas into disjointed fragments, here we see Baselitz enact an almost surgical process of dislocation. Both man and dog are split across their lower torsos, divided to reveal the wooden paneling behind. As in many of the early fracture paintings, these subtle ruptures and omissions are part of a larger strategy of fgural distortion: in Malermund, the fgure strains towards the upper edge of the canvas, his arms and facial features crimped by subtle perspectival shifts. The dog, too, is captured in a state of metamorphosis, seemingly foreshortened beneath the arm of his master. Pitting unschooled representational strategies against traditional painterly techniques and subject matter, Baselitz creates a compelling dialogue between form and content, challenging the legibility of the fgurative image through a range of dissections and fssures.
In Malermund, we see Baselitz attempting to reconcile his status as an artist in a divided post-War nation. Unlike his East German contemporaries Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, both of whom responded to American pop culture and its capitalist implications in the early 1960s, Baselitz remained attracted to a more personally expressive, fgurative idiom. With his lineage in the Expressionist tradition of Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka and Die Brücke, Baselitz equally found inspiration in marginalized fgures from the depths of art history, including the nineteenth-century Saxon artist Louis Ferdinand von Rayski, as well as the Russian Symbolist painter Mikhail Vrubel. The ‘Fracture paintings may be seen to draw together the diverse visual infuences that fed Baselitz’s imagination during his early years. Fascinated by Chaim Soutine’s depictions of distorted fesh, in 1960 Baselitz devoted himself to the study of anamorphosis, reading Jurgis Baltrusaitis’s book Anamorphoses ou perspectives curieuses (1955). The Surrealists’ exploration of chance also had a profound impact on the artist, and the ‘Fracture’ paintings have been variously discussed in relation to the cadaver exquis technique, based on an old parlour game in which players took it in turns to draw segments of a fgure. Emerging from this eclectic source archive, these works may be seen to embody the desperate