Thursday, 12 February 2009

Georg Baselitz
Third P.D. Foot, 1963

Oil on canvas 130 x 100cm

Royal Academy, London
27th September 2007

Georg Baselitz is the archetypal painter of “bad” paintings. One of the Neo-Expressionist artists he is seen as an "enfant terrible” and this exhibition has paintings depicting taboos ranging from masturbation and excrement to allusions to Hitler.

My favourite painting in the exhibition is the monumental Oberon from 1964 that was dramatically hung so that it can be seen framed in the archway at the end of a long run of galleries. Whilst this painting is unsettling I think the earlier work is more melancholic. From these I have chosen the series of canvases P. D. Fuss that were started in 1960 and finished in 1963.

In each of the eleven P. D. Fuss paintings of 1963 a putrefying foot, painted in colours that demonstrate the artist's admiration for Grünewald's rendering of diseased skin in the Isenheim altarpiece, is shown from a different angle, as if illustrating a medical textbook; in certain cases the foot appears as an isolated, anonymous stump, mutilated above the ankle’.

The tortured appendages isolated in these powerful pictures could also be said to have been influenced by Der Fuss des Kunstlers (The Artist's Foot), made in 1876 by Adolph Menzel, and/or by the Studies of Feet and Hands by Théodore Géricault, who worked from dead limbs in preparation for the monumental Raft of the Medusa 1819. However, the original idea of dismembered body parts as a metaphor, probably came from the drawings done by Antoin Artaud whilst in a psychiatric hospital in Switzerland. Artaud's concept of art as a revolutionary force or a form of anarchy, his hallucinatory and erotic language, violent contrasts, as well as his personal history of mental illness appealed to the young Baselitz who was consciously seeking to position himself as an outsider[1].

Baselitz has consistently refuted any connection between his work and expressionism[2]. However, to me this work has an unhealthy melancholy aura and his painting process, quotes from the work of Edvard Munch, Emil Nolde, Van Gogh and the German Expressionists like Kirchner. Ironically the Baselitz paintings have now been appropriated by Glenn Brown as examples of expressionism and reworked in his unique style, for example The Osmond Family from 2003.

[1] Thompson, Alison Two Roads Diverged in the Saxon Woods: Georg Baselitz and Gerhard Richter Art Crit 19 no2 2004 p23
[2] Lloyd, Gill Eternal Outsider: Interview with Georg Baselitz RA Magazine Issue #96 2007


  1. A very thoughtful and stimulating analysis of this Baselitz-painting- with so many references to other painters and styles- I never realized before that the foot can be such an interesting subject- my first impression: a suffering, mutilated foot, a worn out (agelaufener), a run off foot, a foot with a life-biography (whereas babies have soft, gentle, clean feet, not run off yet), and the older we are, the more we appreciate our feet! The reference to the crucifixus of Matthias Grünewald is very inspiring, the suffering humankind might be 'depictured' in this impressive painting I saw in Colmar, and some traces of that thought/impression I could recall while looking at the bare lonely foot of Baselitz. A touching and provoking pic!

  2. Many thanks Philine, against all my aesthetic instincts I really like the early and late Baselitz work. He has more artistic expression in his little finger than I have in my whole body!

  3. My brother hints me to another painting of a foot: Johann Heinrich Füssli (he las lived and worked in England), Der Künstler verzweifelnd vor der Größe der antiken Trümmer, Tuschlaviering, 1778-1780/ The artist, desperated while considering the greatness of the antique ruins- also a kind of melancholy (in : Laszko Glozer, Kunstkritiken (reviews of art), suhrkamp taschenbuch 193, 1974, S. 87 u. Abb.).

  4. Füssli was called in England: "the wild Swiss"!