In 2010 the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao acquired Baselitz’s 'Mrs. Lenin and the Nightingale' (2008), a suite of sixteen large-format paintings. The series is based on the repetition of the same compositional structure: two upside-down male figures sitting next to each other, their penises exposed and their hands resting solemnly on their thighs. The compositional motif originates from Otto Dix’s renowned portrait The Artist’s Parents II (Die Eltern des Künstlers II, 1924).
As in many of his works, Baselitz refers here to a specific art-historical precedent, reinterpreting it in his own way: in this case, replacing the figures in the original composition with two dictators, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, who, in the first half of the twentieth century, caused the loss of millions of human lives. The former is portrayed as “Mrs. Lenin,” wearing a skirt and high-heeled shoes (a reference to his love of disguise), while the latter, known for his singing voice and interest in poetry, is "the nightingale." Baselitz also refers to a poem by the German writer Johannes R. Becher in which Becher describes Stalin as a nightingale.
Each of the sixteen paintings in the series bears an individual title comprising a pun or an enigmatic phrase. None of these titles refer directly to the dictators portrayed, but were inspired for the most part by reflections upon, or encounters with, the work of modern and contemporary artists, including Cecily Brown, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Willem de Kooning, Tracey Emin, Philip Guston, Damien Hirst, Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons, and Piet Mondrian, among others.
Georg Baselitz: 'Mrs. Lenin and the Nightingale (2008)'
Tuesday - Sunday: 10am - 7.30 pm
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+34 944 35 90 00
Until 28 October 2012
Georg Baselitz 'Sonnung und Mondung im Hause von Jeff und Damien' 2008 Oil on canvas
© Georg Baselitz Photo: Jochen Littkemann, Berlin Courtesy White Cube