Self-portrait of artist who fled Nazis sells for record 23 mln euros in Germany

BERLIN, Dec 1 (Reuters) - A striking self-portrait created by artist Max Beckmann during World War Two after he fled Nazi Germany was sold for 23.2 million euros on Thursday, a record price for a painting auctioned in Germany, Villa Grisebach auction house said.

The auctioneers, in Berlin, had estimated that "Self-portrait in yellow-pink", painted in 1943, would attract bids of between 20 million and 30 million euros.

"With this result Grisebach has set an international benchmark for the German art trade and once again made Berlin a venue for world-class auction results," said Bernd Schultz, senior partner at Grisebach.

Beckmann, widely viewed as a major modern artist of the last century, painted it while in exile in Amsterdam.

After the Nazis branded his paintings "degenerate art", Beckmann and his wife, Mathilde, known as "Quappi", fled Germany in 1937. Waiting in Amsterdam for years for a visa to the United States, Beckmann worked under adverse circumstances.

In the portrait, Beckmann departed from his usual dark colours and painted himself wearing a yellow fabric. His distant gaze, meditation-like pose and almost bald head are reminiscent of a Buddhist monk.

The auction house has said there are no questions over the artwork's provenance, as the artist gave it to his wife who loved it so much she kept it until she died in 1986.

Eventually a private collection in Switzerland purchased the painting before entrusting it to Villa Grisebach.

A spokesperson for Grisebach said the successful bid, from Switzerland, was 20 million euros and the remainder of the price covered fees. There had been competition from five countries.

Auctioneers hope the sale, which Grisebach said was the second highest price fetched globally for an artist's self-portrait, will boost Germany's art market, which trails New York, London and Paris.

In 2018, Villa Grisebach obtained the highest auction price to date for a painting in Germany when it sold Max Beckmann's 'The Egyptian' for 5.5 million euros.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by David Gregorio

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