Description & Technical information

The unity between life and art – a subject Beuys repeatedly returned to – is here nearly literally both the theme and the medium. A piece of wrapping material becomes the support for a drawing that, considering the title, alludes to a botanical handbook. In the history of recent art Joseph Beuys stands chronicled as a figure who enlisted all arms to make his life and work into myth, in order to confer the artist with a heroic status. Thirty years after his death, he is indeed ‘larger than life and, ultimately, sacrosanct: a German icon.’ Many of his artistic choices – unusual materials like fat or honey, a pdredilection for brown and gray – are associated with his provocative attitude, as culminated in his performances as well. In his masterplan based on an ‘expanded concept of art’ that harks back to the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, scientific knowledge is also subservient to art and the artist acquires a shaman’s role, a high-priest who shall meld material and spiritual forces. – Here Beuys intentionally combines an awkward sketch, on a background of banal notes, with the scientific appellation of a rare species of palm, the Verschaffeltia splendida that is found only on three islands in the Seychelles, and whose name was first given by the famous Belgian horticulturalist Ambroise Verschaffelt (1825–1886), member of a family of professional nursery-men who imported many exotic plant species into Europe. Like the animals in Beuys’s performances that serve to revive ancient myths and rites, to reconcile nature and culture, trees too play a great role in his work – up to and including planting 7,000 oak trees (with the help of volunteers) in the run-up to Documenta 1982 in Kassel, Germany, as ‘social sculpture’, as expression of the universal capability of being creative. In this context perhaps Verschaffeltia splendida stands for the role that the exceptional artist can play as pioneer.

Date:  1972
Period:  20th century
Origin:  Germany
Medium: Graphite, Cardboard collage on paper
Signature: Signed, titled and dated Joseph Beuys 1972 Verschaffeltia (Palme) (along the lower edge).

Dimensions: 31.7 x 26.6 cm (12¹/₂ x 10¹/₂ inches)
Provenance: Cleto Polcina Arte Moderna, Roma
Lucio Amelio Gallery, Napels
Private collection, London

Literature: Ronny Van de Velde, The Mind of the Artist, Knokke, 2013, cat.nr95
Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints