Thaddaeus Ropac exhibits a new series of paintings and ink drawings by Georg Baselitz

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Thaddaeus Ropac exhibits a new series of paintings and ink drawings by Georg Baselitz
Georg Baselitz, Sigmund ist von der Berggasse 19 in Wien nach 20 Maresfield Gardens nach London gezogen, 2024. Oil on canvas. 300 x 450 cm (118.11 x 177.17 in).

SALZBURG.- Created in the artist’s studio north of Salzburg, this new series of paintings and ink drawings features eagles – a motif that has resurfaced in Georg Baselitz’s oeuvre throughout his life. Depicted in tactile, multicoloured impasto, the works feature eagles rendered in gestural strokes, larger than life, hovering in an undefined space. Seemingly weightless, they appear to float against varying backgrounds of blue, in hues reminiscent of works by Lucas Cranach the Elder or ‘the beach paintings that Picasso created in Dinard, in Brittany, in the 1920s’ as Andreas Zimmermann, curator of the celebrated exhibition Georg Baselitz: Naked Masters (2023) at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, writes in the accompanying exhibition catalogue. The eagles are perched or in flight, conveying a sense of the vigour with which they were painted. Baselitz uses spatulas rather than paint brushes, producing marks that recall ‘middle and late period Rembrandt and, even more so, pen and ink drawings by Hokusai. […] Filigree and powerful at once: a typical Baselitz paradox.’

In two paintings, Baselitz depicts birds against a lighter, slate blue backdrop, grounded by a web of colour streaks that stretches across the canvas in zigzag lines. The eagles in these works prominently feature applications of cut-out plastic circles as eyes – a method that Baselitz has only recently adopted and which was inspired by Hannah Höch’s collages. The two largest works in the exhibition each show a pair of birds in flight on a monumental scale, their wings spread almost 3 metres wide across the canvas. The birds are depicted against a mountain range and thereby directly refer back to the artist’s first ever rendition of the subject. Painted at the young age of 15, one of Baselitz’s earliest works likewise shows two eagles in flight over mountains and, as Zimmermann observes, ‘the importance Baselitz attaches to this early work, done when he was still a schoolboy, is evident from the fact that over the decades he has repeatedly returned to it.’

Since the 1960s, Georg Baselitz has consistently renewed his practice through innovative formal developments, often responding to art history and his own extensive oeuvre. While Baselitz’s painting technique has been subject to constant transformation, his thematic vocabulary revolves around a number of key subjects that run through his oeuvre like a golden thread and notably include portraits of his wife, Elke. The return to the highly symbolic motif of the eagle in this most recent series integrates a wide range of historical and art-historical references into his work, including Rembrandt’s iconic depiction of Ganymede, in the collection of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, which Baselitz was familiar with from a young age. ‘The eagle embodies qualities that have fuelled the human imagination for thousands of years,’ writes Zimmermann, and its great significance as a heraldic symbol in German history further plays into the backdrop of Baselitz’s repeated examination of this subject.

Baselitz’s works can almost always be tied to his experiences and impressions during his childhood in Dresden and the ensuing formative years he spent in Berlin. By revisiting the motifs of his past, Baselitz offers a reflection on the significance of painting itself. Asked about this self-referentiality, he stated: ‘I kept sinking into myself, and everything I do is being pulled out of myself.’

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Andreas Zimmermann, curator of the acclaimed Georg Baselitz exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, in 2023.

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