'I am related to all the painters who explore painting. However already during my school years I felt almost biologically related to Edvard MunchAnd I still love his works. I understood him immediately and I still continue to use quotations and formal practices from Munch' (G. Baselitz quoted on http://faurschou.com/exhibitions/past/79/about/)
Completed in 1988, measuring almost two meters in height and width, Edvard by Georg Baselitz is a large-scale portrait of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Munch is depicted inverted alongside a barren tree and its mirrored reflection. With impulsive, visceral strokes, Baselitz envelops the entire canvas with a vivid palette. The freely applied hues of vermillion orange, cadmium yellow and sanguine red engulf the cooler grey and jet black areas, creating a dramatic mise-en-scéne on the surface of the painting. On the left side, the upside down figure of Munch is fragmented, his body cut off at the waist. Surrounded by a luminous yellow expanse, Munch's face, one of anguish and hysteria-a plethora of forest green, orange, red and hints of blue-recalls the facial feature of the Norwegian artist's most iconic painting, The Scream. In Edvard, Baselitz evokes the same sense of isolation, anxiety and despair observed in the face in The Scream. The crude, emphatic style of Edvard, with its heavily gestured forms and bursts of thick, white impasto streaks, in some ways echoes the angular cuts and chips apparent in Baselitz's wood sculptures.
A testament to this exceptional portrait, Edvard was exhibited in 1989 in Refigured Painting: The German Image 1960-1988, a breakthrough exhibition of post-War German art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It was exhibited six years later at the same venue in the major retrospective exhibition Georg Baselitz, which travelled internationally to the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz.
A significant and carefully calculated way of freeing himself from total dependence on the motif, Baselitz inverts the depiction of Munch in Edvard. In doing so, he advocates a radically new and unconventional way of seeing. The double tree motif to the right of Munch's figure recalls Der Wald auf dem Kopf [The Wood on Its Head] from 1969, the first painting in which Baselitz fully inverted a composition. As Norman Rosenthal has suggested: 'Baselitz had hit on a method of objectifying the work of art without entering the realm of pure abstraction, nor allowing the motif to predominate' (N. Rosenthal quoted in N. Rosenthal (ed.), Georg Baselitz, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London 2007, p. 20). Oscillating between abstraction and figuration, Edvard entreats the viewer to contemplate and complete the image, recognising both composition and artwork as an object.
The portrait of Edvard Munch is a recurrent theme in Baselitz's paintings during the eighties. As early as 1982, Baselitz includes the solitary figure of Munch in his works. In paintings such as Etwas vor dem Spiegel (Munch) [Something in front of the Mirror (Munch)] and Letztes Selbstbildnis (Munch) [Last Self-Portrait (Munch)] , Baselitz portrays a troubled Munch, with thick, dense and graphic application of paint, isolated in a shadowy, opaque black background. In the latter portrait, Baselitz directly quotes Munch's self-portrait of 1927, where the Norwegian artist depicts himself with breasts, in a reinterpretation of his body as a hermaphrodite, a motif that is also seen in Munch's large-scale painting Human Mountain from a year earlier. Baselitz took direct inspiration from Human Mountain and repeats the motif of Munch's body in Edvard, referencing both Munch and himself in the figuration.
It is not merely the representation of Munch, however, that interests Baselitz, but the 'demonstrative and generalising parable of existential moments of an artist's life' (J. Schilling quoted in Georg Baselitz: Gemälde und Arbeiten auf Papier 1971-2004, exh. cat., Galerie Henze & Ketterer, Bern 2008, p. 20). Through using Munch's form in Edvard, Baselitz evokes the subjects prevalent in Munch's work, notably man's inner conflict and a pronounced existentialism.
In Edvard, Baselitz simultaneously embraces and rejects the tenets of German Expressionism. Formally, his artistic practice demonstrates links with his stylistic predecessors, the artist group Die Brüke. Interestingly, their collective practice of wood carving and printing were greatly influenced by the woodcuts of Munch. Yet, Baselitz has asserted: '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' (G. Baselitz quoted in D. Waldman, Georg Baselitz, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1995, p. 149).
This professed discontinuity of artistic tradition on his part reflects the condition of German art, following the devastation of World War II and the National Socialist regime. Baselitz once said that he 'was born into a destroyed order' (G. Baselitz quoted n D. Kuspit, 'Goth to Dance', Artforum, No. 33, Summer 1995, p. 76). In recognition of this fractured linear progression in art, he explores the delicate process of reconciliation with these discontinuities. Edvard is both tied to and freed from any historical connotations that Munch's representation might carry. It is further removed from this lineage by Baselitz's inversion and his painterly style, bordering abstraction. The ambiguous position that Edvard occupies is both tragic and hopeful, a necessary contradiction for those proceeding from a 'state of disharmony' (G. Baselitz quoted in N. Rosenthal (ed.), Georg Baselitz, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London 2007, p. 25).