Albert Birkle - Irrsinn - image-1
Albert Birkle - Irrsinn - image-2
Albert Birkle - Irrsinn - image-1Albert Birkle - Irrsinn - image-2

Lot 29 D

Albert Birkle - Irrsinn

Auction 1223 - overview Cologne
06.06.2023, 18:00 - Evening Sale - Modern and Contemporary Art
Estimate: 40.000 € - 60.000 €
Result: 900.000 € (incl. premium)

Albert Birkle


Oil on canvas. 63.5 x 57.5 cm. Framed. Signed 'A. Birkle' in black lower left. Signed and titled on the stretcher 'A. Birkle "Irrsinn"' and inscribed 'Akademie Ausstellung 1925' and 'Preis 1200' [crossed out]. - In very good condition.

With his characteristic, overstated depictions of physiognomies and his old-master-like precision in executing his paintings, Albert Birkle occupied a unique artistic position. In his oeuvre, surreal motifs and an aesthetic based on the New Objectivity combine to form an exceptional sort of magical realism.
“Irrsinn”, from 1925, thematises the dark depths of the human psyche and human beings’ all-too-realistic fear of death. With this work – alongside the painting “Der letzte Kavalier” (Salzburg Museum), which was created the same year – Birkle produced a Dance of Death of his own, based on late medieval models. These images featuring drastic personifications of Death, such as the Dance of Death frieze in St Mary’s Church in Lübeck (c. 1460) or the woodcut series by Hans Holbein the Younger (c.1530), served as memento mori reminding the living of their inevitable mortality.
In Birkle’s version, the theme is imbued with a particularly dramatic dynamism. Death, as a skeleton shimmering with a greenish light and still displaying traces of decomposition, leaps up to ambush his victim from behind, grasping his throat. The deathly terror gripping this man in the midst of his delusion is depicted with the utmost clarity: the eyes bulging in panic and the rigid fingers pressed against his temples. The red background, which also accompanies “Der letzte Kavalier”, keeps the scene set within a nightmarish void. As Silvia Kraker conjectures in her doctoral thesis, Birkle’s wartime experiences, a possible severe illness of his own or the literature of Baudelaire, for whom he had a special predilection, could have led to these extraordinary explorations of death.


We would like to thank Roswita and Viktor Pontzen, Archiv und Werkbetreuung Albert Birkle, Salzburg, for their kind support. The work is listed in the internal catalogue of works under number 803.


Owned by the artist until 1977; Neue Münchner Galerie Dr. Hiepe, on commission; Private ownership, Munich (1978); since then in family ownership


Albin Rohrmoser, Albert Birkle, Ölmalerei und Pastell, exhib. cat. Museumspavillon im Mirabellgarten, Salzburg 1980, fig. 7 (not shown in the exhibition); Silvia Kraker, Albert Birkle, Phil.Diss., Innsbruck 1992, cat. no. 394


Berlin 1925 ("Preußische Akademie der Künste"), Spring Exhibition, cat. no. 9 ("Wahnsinn"); Berlin 1927 (Johannes Hinrichsen, Künstlerhaus in der Bellevuestraße), Albert Birkle, cat. no. 10; Ulm 1929 (Städtisches Museum), collective exhibition Albert Birkle, handwritten exhibition list no. 7