Anselm Kiefer (German, born 1945) Untitled - Soldat (Sol invictus Heliogabal) 1974

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Lot 33AR
Anselm Kiefer
(German, born 1945)
Untitled - Soldat (Sol invictus Heliogabal)

Sold for £ 209,000 (US$ 287,682) inc. premium
Anselm Kiefer (German, born 1945)
Untitled - Soldat (Sol invictus Heliogabal)

signed on the stretcher
oil on burlap

80 by 70.5 cm.
31 1/2 by 27 3/4 in.

This work was executed in 1974.


  • Provenance
    Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne
    Private Collection, USA
    Sale: Christie's, New York, Contemporary Art, 17 November 1999, Lot 186
    Private Collection, Europe
    Sale: Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art (Day Sale), 27 June 2002, Lot 153
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    As a self-styled artist-philosopher and life-long provocateur, Anselm Kiefer has never shied away from difficult or controversial subject matter. Long fascinated by Germany's history, and its historical and mythical sense of self-identity, his work explores the beauty and the horror of his own nation's complex past. It is in fact his imagery related to the Second World War which first drew international attention to the man now identified as one of Germany's greatest contemporary artists. The mid-1970s were to prove a crucial time in the development of his practice, a fact signalled by the inclusion of key paintings from the period in the collections of the Tate Gallery, London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA, New York, and the Fondation Beyler, Basel amongst others; challenging, sometimes shocking, always intelligent and philosophically weighty, it is works such as Soldat (which translates simply as "Soldier") of 1974 which originally propelled Anselm Kiefer onto the world stage.

    Kiefer's oeuvre, both painted and sculptural, is imbued with a sense of the recent and distant past. In Soldat we witness his close identity with both Germany's military history, and its artistic traditions. By clearly identifying himself as a 'German' artist, interested in creating work directly influenced by ideas of nation and nationalism, Kiefer has continually examined what it truly means to be 'German'. Although the artist himself has downplayed the importance of Expressionism in his style, it is hard to ignore the stylistic influences that we see here in those deep, broad brushstrokes. The technique employed is bold, unequivocal. And yet the figure that we see here, his indistinct face viewed obliquely, the head dominated by a heavy helmet, is far from heroic. In its unidealized representation of a military figure, Soldat can be added to a long line of such portraits produced by German masters including Max Beckmann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. In confronting difficult history, Kiefer, like his esteemed predecessors, deals with the very memory of a nation; although he himself was born in the very final year of World War II, he has always felt the immense weight of this cataclysmic event, the weight of intense remorse, of horror and regret.

    During the mid-1970s, Kiefer's interest in German history was broadening, taking in the ancient past as well as the modern. Here Kiefer alludes to the cult of Sol Invictus, which was founded by the Roman Emperor Elagabalus (or Heliogabal). The official sun god of the later Roman Empire and a patron of soldiers, the profile of Sol Invictus, similar to the imagery employed by Kiefer, was used on coins throughout the empire until the time of Constantine I. This ancient imagery lends the present work a broader vision of the past, an omnipresent echo of conflict, oppression and conquest. Soldat from 1974 forces us to interrogate our history both recent and distant, but also to confront our present, to ask questions about ourselves, about others, and about the very nature of human existence. No one, believes Kiefer, is beyond reproach: "Authority, competition, superiority...these are facets of me like everyone else" (the artist in: Daniel Arasse, Anselm Kiefer, London 2014, p. 117).

    Kiefer's intention has always been to leave his work open to interpretation. He talks of his paintings as "enigmas", and suggests that they experience an inevitable afterlife once they leave his studio. On being asked when a painting is complete, his reply is apparently contradictory: "Never. Or always when it is viewed by a person. At that point a picture exists for them that I am only partially responsible for" (the artist in an interview with Axel Echt, Germano Celant Ed., Anslem Kiefer, Bilbao 2007, p. 159). Although it makes direct reference to this history of Kiefer's own nation, this painting's import is wider and more ambitious than that alone. As a result, Soldat can be viewed as a work of art with universal significance, a painting with represents the experience of an individual artist, but also the reality of all humanity.
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