Georg Baselitz, ‘Zwei Rehe (Two Deer)’, 1984, Sotheby's: Contemporary Art Day Auction
Georg Baselitz, ‘Zwei Rehe (Two Deer)’, 1984, Sotheby's: Contemporary Art Day Auction

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From the Catalogue

Throughout his career, Baselitz strove to challenge the realities of history and art history, to make them new and fresh in a truly heroic manner. His art deliberately cuts against the grain of Contemporary trends, and in doing so Baselitz started to paint inverted depictions of people, nature and animals in 1969, longing to detach the literal interpretation from the painted image. “Before I started to invert the motif, I painted pictures which anticipated certain elements in this kind of painting, although they were less blatant and obvious. In these earlier pictures, the figurative motifs were fragmented and eventually allowed to wander at will around the canvas. If you stop fabricating motifs but still want to carry on painting, then inverting the motif is the obvious thing to do. The hierarchy which has the sky at the top and the earth at the bottom is, in any case, only a convention. We have got used to it, but we don't have to believe in it. ... What I wanted was quite simply to find a way of making pictures, perhaps with a new sense of detachment. That's all" (George Baselitz, cited in: 'Interview with Walter Grasskamp', 1984).

In Zwei Rehe, Baselitz successfully presents us with this reversal that is at first intentionally challenging to grasp. Two deer are depicted in profile, one red-ochre and one green-black, touching noses among a thickly painted blend of many colors, muddling our understanding of background and foreground. The deer are set amongst a psychedelic environment in which we are challenged as to whether they are inverted or the entire painting is inverted. Unlike other celebrated paintings such as In Fingermalerei – Adler (1972) in which an eagle is depicted as though mid-motion, poised to attack its prey, Zwei Rehe portrays two motionless, almost lifeless deer suspended within the canvas. While both the eagle and the deer have strong symbolic signature in German culture, the artist has created almost opposing auras in these works – resonating opposing, yet both incredibly effective, feelings of dislocation on the viewer.—In German visual culture, the deer has always been a traditional iconographic feature. It is prevalent in works of art and design spanning Lucas Cranach the Elder and Albrecht Dürer to Franz Marc and Gerhard Richter. Franz Marc in particular is celebrated for his heroism of the natural world and unification of animal and landscape during the early twentieth century. While Baselitz’s painting style is very different from Marc’s, it revives an early impetus in German Expressionist art of returning ‘back-to-nature’ in a way that adopts an all-over organization of the pictorial field. In Franz Marc’s Deer in the Forest I, 1911, the artist also adopts this all-over integration of background and foreground, wildlife and its surroundings, and reality as translated into unbridled color and incipient line.

Baselitz’s choice of subject matter also reflects a shift in the artist’s own life. Following the birth of his second child in 1966, Baselitz moved from Berlin to the countryside in southwestern Germany. After this relocation, Baselitz began creating paintings and drawings with imagery of traditional German motifs, such as huntsmen, cows, dogs and deer. These established German subjects gave Baselitz an innovative way of presenting a sense of time and dislocation – a theme he had been tackling since first wielding a paintbrush. Although painted almost two decades after this relocation, Zwei Rehe fully embodies this change in subject and theme.

Zwei Rehe is a powerful testament to Georg Baselitz’s iconic approach to painting. By intentionally painting the image upside down, Baselitz effectively taps into a method of objectifying the work of art without entering the realm of pure abstraction or simply permitting the motif to dominate. However, Baselitz is entirely distinctive in his approach, and where Franz Marc was driven by a holistic vision of the world as an interconnected system of line, color and energy, Baselitz takes on this aesthetic in terms of an abstract quotation and literally turns it on its head. In doing so, Baselitz releases his works from the symbolic immediacy of nature as championed by Marc and into something else: a painting and a concept with multiple dimensions.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: signed with the artist’s initials and dated 31.XII.84; signed, titled and dated 16.XII.84 - 31.XII.84 on the reverse

Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Georg Baselitz, April - June 1986, cat. 43, n.p., illustrated in color

Michael Werner Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990

About Georg Baselitz

Counting among his influences Art Brut, Art Informel, and Abstract Expressionism, as well as artists Edvard Munch and Wassily Kandinsky, German artist Georg Baselitz’s work is characterized by expressionistic mark-making and unrefined, even grotesque, figurative depiction. Working in painting, drawing, printmaking, and monumental wood sculpture, Baselitz often addresses issues related to German national identity post-World War II, particularly the role of German artists. Along with Anselm Kiefer, Baselitz was chosen to represent Germany at the 1980 Venice Biennale, exhibiting a monumental wooden sculptural figure that appeared to be making a Nazi salute, causing an eruption of controversy and bringing the question of contemporary German identity to the fore. Baselitz is closely associated with fellow artists A.R. Penck and Eugen Schöenbeck, who demonstrate similar stylistic tendencies and emphasis on subject matter rather than strict abstraction.

German, b. 1938, Deutschbaselitz, Germany, based in Munich and Imperia, Italy

Solo Shows

Washington D.C., USA,
Baselitz: Six Decades
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, 
London, UK,
Between Eagles and Pioneers
London, UK,
Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale