Anselm Kiefer, Maria durch den Dornwald ging, 2005-2008

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Lot 30AR W
Anselm Kiefer
(German, 1945)
Maria durch den Dornwald ging

Sold for £ 302,500 (US$ 419,870) inc. premium
Anselm Kiefer (German, 1945)
Maria durch den Dornwald ging

acrylic, emulsion, clay, dried roses, shellac, charcoal and adhesive on canvas laid on board, in the original steel frame

286 by 140 by 10 cm.
112 5/8 by 55 1/8 by 3 15/16 in.


  • Provenance
    Grothe Collection, Germany (acquired directly from the artist)
    Galerie Klaus Benden, Cologne
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2012

    Baden-Baden, Museum Frieder Burda, Anselm Kiefer: Ausgewählte Arbeiten aus der Sammlung Grothe, 2011-2012, p. 25, illustrated in colour
    Koblenz, Ludwig Museum, Anselm Kiefer: Memorabilia, 2012, pp. 53 and 85, illustrated in colour (once as a detail)
    Cologne, Klaus Benden Gallery, Anselm Kiefer: Alchemie, 2013
    Hagen, Osthaus Museum, Anselm Kiefer: Unfruchtbare Landschaften, 2013

    There is a rawness to the work of Anselm Kiefer, a strong sense of art distilled down to its purest form. This apparent simplicity, however, often masks complex allusions and implications. Kiefer's art is undeniably beautiful, but its beauty is always more than just aesthetic. For in its use of unexpected materials, the detritus of the natural world in the form of dried flowers, earth and ash, and in its cultural and historical references, his work transforms object into subject, magically manipulating his media in a process which he himself has compared to alchemy. It creates a labyrinthine discourse between memory and consciousness, between myth and reality, in a multi-layered composite of the past, present and future. Often referring back to German history, literature and folk customs, Kiefer's art explores histories which are personal, national and international, and tells stories which can be either sacred or profane.

    Maria durch den Dornwald ging, 2005, an imposing work featuring a bold array of mixed media, shares its title with a traditional folk song from Germany, a song which became popular as a Christmas carol in the early twentieth century. A haunting, rather melancholy melody commonly sung by choral groups, the song would no doubt have been familiar to Kiefer during his childhood years in Post-War Germany. Its title translates into English as 'Mary went through the thorn forest', and although the origins of the song itself are unclear, the association of the Virgin with roses in German gold-ground paintings such as Stephan Lochner's Madonna of the Rose Bower from 1440-1442 suggest a medieval date. Its subject matter is to be found in the Biblical Gospel of Luke, and relates to a journey by the Virgin Mary to visit her cousin Elizabeth soon after the Annunciation. The gospel tells of Mary entering a withered, apparently barren forest of thorn bushes, her very presence miraculously causing the bushes to instantly burst forth into leaf and flower. The imagery inherent in the song's lyrics is evocative of age-old themes; of death and rebirth, agony and ecstasy, of new life emerging from death itself as proof of a spiritual immortality. Only in facing such a difficult, painful journey through a landscape of thorns could true divine beauty be reached, and in Anselm Kiefer's Maria durch den Dornwald ging from 2005 we discover a similar triumph of beauty and hope over desperation and adversity.

    In our encounter with the commanding presence of Maria durch den Dornwald ging, it is we the viewer who are invited to journey through the dense forest of thorns which bursts out of the canvas in a mass of twigs and leaves. The earth from which it sprouts is apparently parched and unfertile, its dry, cracked materiality reminiscent of the iconic Cretti of Alberto Burri. But above the bushes the opening line of the song, and the title of the work itself, hangs in the air, carefully etched in a spidery hand: Maria durch den Dornwald ging. It is these words which draw us forward into the thicket, promising something more, something which lies beyond the prickles and spikes of the thorn bushes, something more hopeful than the dry, tired earth. Those roses, often associated in art with drops of blood, will bloom once more. The journey may not be easy, but the miracle which lies at its end is powerfully magnetic.

    Kiefer now works from a huge 200 acre 'studio' estate in southern France, a space that allows him to experiment with large scale sculpture and painting. His work has long attracted international attention, as attested to by a string of important retrospectives and solo shows, including the two recent German exhibitions which featured the present work. The artist's own dedication to aesthetic pleasure is clear-cut and unambiguous: "You cannot avoid beauty in a work of art" (the artist, interviewed by Jackie Wullschlager on, 19 September 2014). His brand of beauty, however, is not that of pretty flowers or rolling hills; instead Kiefer locates a more spiritual sense of grace, refinement and strength. His works often tackle difficult subjects, areas of our cultural history which are unsettling and dark such as guilt at the misdemeanours of past generations. In Maria durch den Dornwald ging from 2005 we meet a Kiefer who is unavoidably optimistic, an artist who is on an arduous, sometime painful journey towards enlightenment. This is not an idealised world full of comfort and joy, but one in which difficulty is unavoidable, and suffering inevitable. That there is hope too, is guaranteed; hope in the immortality of true beauty, and in the survival of the spirit through hardship, a faith that sings out from Maria durch den Dornwald ging, both painting and song. Christian Weikop notes the regular appearance of symbolic representations of trees and forests in Kiefer's art, a prevalence which he relates to the artist's own childhood experiences in the Black Forest ('Forests of Myth, Forests of Memory', Anselm Kiefer, London 2014, p. 30). In recalling memories of his childhood, those dark forests and that haunting hymn, Kiefer presents us with an allegory for our very existence. His religion, this mysterious mythology, differs from the shiny, new religions that he dismisses as "product", because for Kiefer the religious/artistic experience is one of intense mystical depth, an experience which we witness so perceptibly in Maria durch den Dornwald ging, 2005. It takes us on a voyage of transformation both physical and metaphysical, and leads us towards the light of eternal hope.
Anselm Kiefer, Maria durch den Dornwald ging, 2005-2008
Anselm Kiefer, Maria durch den Dornwald ging, 2005-2008
Anselm Kiefer, Maria durch den Dornwald ging, 2005-2008
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