Ambivalent hero:
“A Modern Painter”

Georg Baselitz (*1938)

Painting by Georg Baselitz, oil on canvas, 1966, 162 x 130 cm
© Georg Baselitz, Repro: Kai-Annett Becker

The bulky figure of a seated young man painted in bright oils stands out against the black background. His chest can be seen beneath his tatty open jacket, his trousers are unzipped. His exposed penis continues as a skin-coloured spiral. The man is barefoot, his fingers dig into the earth.

In the mid-1960s Georg Baselitz was caught up in a whirl of creative output. The young artist spent the spring of 1965 on a scholarship to Villa Romana, a centre for German artists in Florence. There he developed his “Heroes” cycle: nearly 200 prints and about 60 paintings in rapid succession, including “A Modern Painter”.

Isolated, bewildered and vulnerable, this bulky figure crouches on the floor. His gaze is upwards, while his fingertips dig into the dark earth. The dramatic parading of genitals and vehement technique were a provocation to both the art world and the general public. The torn clothes suggest a soldier’s uniform, evoking memories of Germany’s inauspicious past. In post-war West German society, the Nazi years and the Second World War were largely swept under the carpet. In a new kind of figurative painting, a generation of younger artists rebelled against this silence. In protest they made central themes of ugliness, obscenity or – like Baselitz – ambivalent heroes who despaired at the world.

A Modern Painter
Oil on canvas
162 x 130 cm
Acquired with funds from the Foundation DKLB, Berlin 1991

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