Germany born 1938
Meissener Waldarbeiter [Meissen woodmen]
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
Georg Baselitz moved from Berlin to Osthofen on the Rhine in 1966 and for the next three years made a series of ‘fracture paintings’ (Frakturbilder) such as this of fragmented shepherds, woodmen and animals. Here pieces of three woodcutters and their dog are shown amid pieces of sawn timber near the Saxon town of Meissen. The artist survived the Nazis and the Second World War in Saxony, but left for West Germany in 1956: from 1945 to 1990 Saxony was in Communist East Germany. Baselitz stated in 1995, ‘I was born into a destroyed order ... and I didn’t want to re-establish an order.’
The woodmen evoke the cult of the primeval forests promulgated by the Nazis, their monumental scale brings to mind Communist propaganda posters featuring workers, and to modern eyes their appearance with logs and a dog refers to human exploitation of the rest of nature. They resemble Baselitz’s mock-heroic ‘new type’ figures from earlier in the 1960s, now divided and in disarray. Their shattering into what looks like a broken mosaic from a by-gone era speaks powerfully of the transient nature of utopian delusions.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008
Meissen woodmen 1969 is one of five similarly sized paintings using woodmen as the subject that were painted by Baselitz between 1967 and 1969. The Gallery's work, painted in 1969, is the last of this series of related paintings and was made just before Baselitz began to invert his images.
The woodman developed from 'der neuer Typ' (the new man), the hero figure that appeared in Baselitz's works at the time he was working at the Villa Romana in Italy in 1965. This figure combines elements taken from Mannerist prints that Baselitz collected, especially those showing the various professions, with the heroic iconography of social realism; the phrase 'der neuer Typ', used in the title of a number of works of this period, comes from the literature of the Russian Revolution. The rustic setting for these hero figures may derive from Baselitz's move, in 1966, to the small village of Osthofen, near Worms, where he worked in relative isolation.
Concurrent with the development of this type of imagery, Baselitz initiated ways of dividing the image to undermine the narrative implication of his motifs while not altogether eliminating them. The works of 1967-69 divided in this manner are known as 'fracture' paintings. The earliest of these paintings are fractured by a single division usually cutting the image in two. In later works the fractures become progressively more complex, climaxing in the kind of shattered mosaic that can be seen in the Gallery's painting.
According to Detlev Gretenkort, Baselitz's secretary, the reference to the East German town of Meissen in the title of the painting is one of a number of references in the artist's works to Saxony, the area where Baselitz was raised and now lives, and is without social or political import.1
The Gallery owns a second, later, painting by Baselitz: St Michael 1983.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.385.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra