Georg Baselitz

Adieu

1982

Original title
Adieu
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 2500 x 3005 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1983
Reference
T03672

Display caption

Baselitz began to paint figures upside-down in the late 1960s, insisting that viewers should concentrate on the lines and marks of the painting rather than its resemblance to reality. He worked on this painting over a number of weeks, repeatedly adjusting the position of the two figures further apart from each other. The title Adieu reflects this sense of a growing separation: 'one of them is only half there, while the other is going away', the artist wrote. Asked about the chequerboard background, Baselitz recalled that, 'a starter's flag of a grand prix race was floating in my imagination'.

Gallery label, July 2015

Catalogue entry

Georg Baselitz born 1938

T03672 Adieu 1982

Oil on canvas 2052 x 3004 (98 1/2 x 118 1/4)
Inscribed '17.III.82 G. Baselitz' bottom centre
Purchased from Xavier Fourcade Inc., New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Exh: Documenta 7, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, June-Sept. 1982 (not in cat.); New Art at the Tate Gallery, Tate Gallery, Sept.-Oct.1983, repr., p.30 (col.); Forty Years of Modern Art 1945-1985, Tate Gallery, Feb.-April 1985, repr. p.155 (col.)
Lit: Tate Gallery Report 1982-4, 1984, repr. p.61 (col.). Also repr: Baselitz: Paintings 1960-1983, exh.cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1983, p.18; Sunday Times Magazine, 17 March 1985, p.3 (col.)

Unless otherwise indicated all comments from the artist are taken from a letter to the compiler, dated 19 February 1988, from Detlev Gretenkort, the artist's secretary, in reply to questions posed to the artist.

In 1969 Baselitz began to invert the figurative imagery in his work, which he has continued to do since then in all media except sculpture. Some images, particularly those from the early 1980s, are 'on their side', while more usually, the artist has painted his images 'upside-down'. By overturning the image Baselitz hopes that the spectator will see the picture as a painted surface first and foremost, rather than immediately concentrating upon its content. Picture-making, as opposed to telling a story or devising symbols, is what interests him, but it is typical of his desire to challenge the conventions of painting that he has sought to create an abstract art without getting rid of the object. Michael Compton writes:

The function is to inhibit the direct interpretation of the picture as a scene or as an illusion ... The pictures are actually painted as they are to be exhibited. If turned so that the figures are the right-way up, they appear to stream upwards like flames, or as if gravity were reversed. Plainly then, if the picture is displayed correctly, gravity is functioning in the artist's world, not that of the subject. The style is not only expressive in a gestural way and in the decisive divisions of the surface; it is also, I think deliberately, primitive. It seems to refer to an art that is sculptural rather than purely painterly, that precedes or stands outside the classical tradition but is nevertheless formal (Tate Gallery exh.cat., 1983, p.29).


Works involving several figures occur with increasing frequency in Baselitz's work of the early 1980s; in the paintings from the early 1980s, which allude to images or psychological consent of Munch's work and in the contemporaneous Girls from Olmo II 1982 (Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, repr. La Collection du Musée National d'art Moderne, Paris 1986, p.63 in col.). The Great Friends 1965 (Museum moderner Kunst, Vienna, loan from the Ludwig Collection, Aachen, repr. Whitechapel Art Gallery, exh.cat., 1983, p.35 in col.) is one of the artist's earliest two-figure paintings.

Baselitz writes that T03672 was painted as Derneburg over a period of weeks and under daylight conditions. After grounding the canvas himself, he painted with unmixed oil colours directly onto the canvas, without any preparatory sketches or underdrawing. He writes of the disposition of the figures: 'the position of the figures was subject to much alteration as they moved closer and closer to the edge of the canvas. I have kept a photographic record of the stages of its making.'

The title, he writes, relates to the fact that, 'one of them [the figures] is only half there, while the other is going away'. Rather than specifying a relationship between the two figures, Baselitz points more to their separation and isolation, when he writes: 'I think the arch between the two figures is big enough, in order that they can each be viewed isolated in their situation'.

In a letter postmarked 11 May 1988, Detlev Gretenkort enclosed reproductions from the artist's archive showing the work in progress. In the first photograph, dated 1 March 1982, the two figures are painted over the first and second vertical rows of background squares respectively. The right-hand figure, particularly, is painted thinly in outline over the background. Three days later, on 14 March 1982, the artist has revised the position of the figures drastically, in keeping with the comment noted above. The left-hand figure is now aligned with the left-hand edge of the canvas, near to its position in the finished painting, although the forward leg is bent at the knee, rather than outstretched, as finally adopted. The background surrounding the left-hand figure is less resolved as this stage, with predominantly white, impasted brushstrokes around the figure. Moreover, down the middle of the painting, a number of outlines suggest that the transitions within the composition were actively pursued on the canvas. In the third documented stage (16 March 1982), the left-hand figure has been altered to the pose adopted in the final version. The right-hand figure, however, remains standing, its feet closer together than in the finished painting, although the area behind its back, a white-brown mix in the finished painting, is already present. The square, second in from the right in the middle layer, has been painted over with white paint: solely the addition of the yellow square in the middle differentiates it from the finished work. Only the sense of departure and walking away is accentuated through the figure leaning forward as if in motion. At this stage the square vacated by this figure, which is white with an inner yellow square in the final version, is the same colour as the squares above and below it.

The figures resemble the sculptural figures Baselitz was working on during this period especially in drawings for sculptures, such as those made in March 1982 (Carl Haenlein (ed.), Georg Baselitz: Skulpturen und Zeichnungen 1979-1987, exh.cat., Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover 1987, pls.18b-18h). Particular features of these drawings are the rounded body, the raised arms and the open, shouting mouth. The motif of the waving figure is re-iterated in a woodcut also of March 1982, entitled 'Waving Woman' (repr. Fred Jahn, Baselitz: Peintre-Graveur, II, Bern and Berlin, 1987, pl.427).

Three drypoints, however, relate most directly to T03672. All entitled 'Adieu' (repr. Jahn II , 1987, pls.383-5), they relate to the figure on the right in the painting. Numbers 383 and 385 are dated August 1982, while number 384 is dated May 1982. In this earlier working of the motif, the artist has also introduced a series of angular lines in the ground which relate to the fully realised grid against which the two figures in T03672 are placed. Asked about the chequerboard background in the Tate's picture, Baselitz recalled that, 'a starter's flag of a grand prix race was floating in my imagination'. A further interpretation suggesting an architectural setting in the chequerboard background is in Tate Gallery Report 1983-4, 1984, p.61, although Baselitz does not refer to this possible reading in his reply of February 1988.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.488-9