Large Head, Sigmar Polke
Sigmar Polke
Large Head
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Sigmar Polke

Large Head, 1979

980 x 680 mm
Physical Description
Brush and acrylic paint and watercolour, splatters of paint on a cut stencil made of wove cardboard, beneath it a second sheet of wove cardboard worked with brush and pastose watercolours and spray technique in blue and black
Inventory Number
Object Number
16730 Z
Not on display


About the Work

Anyone viewing this complex work by Sigmar Polke gradually becomes aware of the intertwining of subjects and artistic techniques. The 'Large Head' seems to be immersed in a disconcerting multiplicity of colours and design effects, which reveal how the artist quotes and deliberately alienates different artistic styles of the modern age as well as trivial pictorial worlds.

The dominant grey look of the head gives the impression of an exhausted rebel. The picture could have been developed from a reportage photograph in a daily newspaper. We see a young man who has covered his hair with a cloth and whose head is inclined sideways. His eyes are closed and he appears to be daydreaming, with a cigarette between his lips. Polke has inserted a possible fantasy image into the visual field, like an ironic comment. The figural scene shows two young couples sitting together convivially at a table and turning expectantly towards a waitress who is serving them cocktails on a tray. This 1960s-style illustration shows an example of carefree leisure time in post-war Germany, when the economy was stable. In 1979 Polke also used it for a stencil print in his painting 'Rotation' (Deutsche Bank). Here, in 'Large Head', he employs this pictorial quotation as a mirror-image cut-out. This technique breaks up the two-dimensional surface and offers the image plane beneath it as a glimpse inside the head, so to speak. Once again we see, as a quotation from a drawing, the stencilled black outline of a hand holding an open pair of scissors - a reference to the author's own artistic action. This detail is located in a painterly pictorial context hinted at by the vibrant blue, which, together with a radiant yellow and red, also appears elsewhere in the cut-out.

The viewer is transported into a qualitatively different level of perception, because now he no longer finds any reference to figural images of reality, but rather an allusion to contemporary art by the likes of Willem de Kooning. The watery blue splashes which melancholically veil the head - which in turn reminds us of Andy Warhol - are a reference to Sam Francis. And the two-dimensional yellow and green areas in the bottom corners of the work recall Colour Field painting. Polke's playful treatment of the different styles of American painting and his ironic look at art and society, which also contains an element of self-mockery, emphasise the subtle dissociation of the German artist from his international contemporaries.

Work Data

Basic Information

Large Head
Period Produced
Object Type
Physical Description
Brush and acrylic paint and watercolour, splatters of paint on a cut stencil made of wove cardboard, beneath it a second sheet of wove cardboard worked with brush and pastose watercolours and spray technique in blue and black
Geographic Reference
Production Reason
Label at the Time of Manufacture
Signiert und datiert unten rechts (mit Bleistift): S. Polke / 79 [eingekreist]
Captions Added Later
Verso Stempel des Städelschen Kunstinstituts, Frankfurt am Main (Lugt 2356)
  • Nicht geprüft

Property and Acquisition

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Eigentum des Städelschen Museums-Vereins e.V.
Picture Copyright
© The Estate Sigmar Polke, Cologne / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2024, Foto: U. Edelmann

Work Content

Motifs and References

Main Motif
Associated Persons and Institutions


  • 43B311(+21) restaurant (+ being served ~ indoor recreation)
  • 41C3 laid table: table-ware, table-decoration, etc.
  • 41C343 salver
  • 41A254 wardrobe

Research and Discussion


Object History
Kunsthandel Deutschland
verkauft an den Städelschen Museums-Verein e.V., Frankfurt am Main, 1989.


Since 2001, the Städel Museum has systematically been researching the provenance of all objects that were acquired during the National Socialist period, or that changed owners or could have changed owners during those years. The basis for this research is the “Washington Declaration”, also known as the “Washington Conference Principles”, formulated at the 1998 “Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets” and the subsequent “Joint Declaration”.

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  • the date on which it changed hands

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