Four engines of modernity / Hölzel ▪︎ Baumeister ▪︎ Baum ▪︎ Fleischmann

Ishtar walking
© Willi Baumeister / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Willi Baumeister

Ischtar schreitend / Ishtar walking, 1948

Oil with synthetic resin and putty on cardboard, mounted on hardboard
52,8 × 71,7 cm

signed and dated lower right: Baumeister 6.48
(BAUMEW/M 82)

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Provenance: Private property, Heilbronn; Galerie Fischinger, Stuttgart; Private property, Stuttgart
Literature: Peter Beye / Felicitas Baumeister. Willi Baumeister. Werkkatalog der Gemälde, vol. II, Ostfildern 2002, no. 1184, ill. p. 466; Aust.Kat. Freie Gruppe Stuttgart, Galerie Schlichtenmaier / Städtische Galerie Böblingen, Grafenau/Böblingen 1988, no. 6, ill. p. 87; Ausst.Kat. The Gilgamesh Epic. Seen by Three Generations, Joseph Hegenbarth, Willi Baumeister, Reinhard Minkewitz, Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz 2005, cat. No. 14, fig. p. 6; exhib.cat. Willi Baumeister. Works 1914 to 1955, Galerie Schlichtenmaier, Grafenau 2000/01, cat. no. 23, ill. p. 50; exhibition cat. Willi Baumeister. Dialog der Kulturen, Galerie Schlichtenmaier, Grafenau 2002, cat.no. 24, ill. p. 81; exhibition cat. Willi Baumeister. Entdeckung neuer Bildwelten, Schlichtenmaier Gallery, Grafenau/Stuttgart 2008, p. 56, ill. p. 57

Willi Baumeister could pursue painting during the Nazi regime only with great difficulty. As a "degenerate" artist, he is at the mercy of dictatorial controls. The intensive study of the theoretical foundations of non-representational art and the deepening of his knowledge of archaic cultures are a consequence of this. Above all the Babylonian "Gilgamesh Epic" is Baumeister's interest during this time. A key scene of the epic describes the meeting of the goddess Ishtar with the only two-thirds divine hero and king of Uruk, Gilgamesh. The goddess courts the love of the hero, who gives her a response that is insulting beyond measure. As punishment and retribution, Ishtar sends the divine bull to earth, which ravages the city of Uruk and kills many Uruk men. Gilgamesh defeats the divine bull and slays it on the advice of his friend Enkidu. The gods punish this sacrilege with the death of Enkidu. In the face of the death of his companion, Gilgamesh, who strives for glory, becomes aware of the transience of life, of existence, since even he is ultimately denied immortality. The painting "Ischtar schreitend" (1948) is a result of this confrontation, whereby Baumeister equates the Babylonian deity "Ischtar" with the Egyptian "Isis". From the hieroglyphs for "Isis" an associative structure emerges composed of the combination of alternately unstable and stable appearing geometric forms and inverted forms, which are emphasized by color or relief character. Baumeister abstracts the heavenly bull, like the serpent that deprives Gilgamesh of the last possibility of attaining eternal life, in the semicircular form of horns, or a serpentine zigzag. Baumeister succeeds in a painterly condensed interpretation of this early epic asking for the meaning of life, the first existential poetry of mankind. The two-facedness and the mutual conditionality of life and death become pictorial in the conundrum forms. The mother-of-pearl color application in contrast to the matte white spatulaed forms creates associations with the glazed and fired bricks of Uruk. These made the city impregnable in archaic times and currently, in the form of the "Ishtar Gate" in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, famous as an important testimony to Babylonian culture.
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