Anselm Kiefer - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'Beauty requires a counterpart. And in thinking about this flaw, the other flaw occurred to me as well: the Morgenthau Plan. For it too ignored the complexity of things.'
    —Anselm Kiefer

    Breath-taking in its scale, near-sculptural use of materials, and the richness of its historical context, Anselm Kiefer’s Freia’s Garden is a powerfully affecting work from one of the most significant artists working in Germany today. Engaging directly with myth, memory, and the question of German post-war consciousness, the present work is a masterful expression of the innovative and philosophical dimensions of Kiefer’s practice, and of the central key themes that anchor an oeuvre that is ‘neither linear nor progressive in its development, but cyclical and reflective, mirroring the artist’s view of life and history.’i First presented at the Royal Academy’s substantial 2014 retrospective and executed the year before, Freia’s Garden belongs to Kiefer’s Morgenthau series, a cycle of works first exhibited in 2012 and publicly exhibited at the 2013 Der Morgenthau Plan hosted by Gagosian in New York. Arresting and immersive, other examples of these monumental works can be found in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Albright-Knox Museum in Buffalo.


    Clip from the BBC Imagine documentary, where Anselm Kiefer discusses his Morgenthau canvases ahead of his 2014 exhibition with the Royal Academy of Arts in London.


    The Morgenthau Plan and the Landscape tradition:

    Historically an agricultural nation, the concept of the land has traditionally been closely bound with questions of German identity and consciousness. Well-represented in art historical terms by a long tradition of landscape painting that reached its most sublime expression within the contexts of German Romanticism and the paintings of Caspar David Friedreich, the close bonds between German culture and the land were appropriated by the Nazis as the ‘embodiment of the German vision’. As curator Kathleen Soriano details, the nationalist ‘cult of German land – Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil) – echoed Hitler’s belief that “true Germans” came from the soil, from those who worked the land’ and Nazi propaganda counterpointed ideas of urban degeneration with a bucolic, rural ideal as an important tool in the promotion of their nationalist ideology.

    Caspar David Friedrich, Sturzacker, c. 1830, Hamburg Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Image: akg-images
    Caspar David Friedrich, Sturzacker, c. 1830, Hamburg Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Image: akg-images

    Kiefer’s early paintings featuring expanses of ploughed and seemingly barren fields certainly draw on this cultural inheritance and the weight of its history, something that the artist radically expanded in his 1981 painting Magarethe, his first work to incorporate straw as a raw material. While these early works clearly develop Kiefer’s abiding interest in cultural memory and the cycles of death and rebirth, his focus on the Morgenthau Plan addresses a specific aspect of German myth-making, an its impact on collective cultural identity.

    Originally proposed by the United States Treasure Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., The Morgenthau Plan was designed as a measure to limit Germany’s capacity to enter international acts of aggression by dismantling its industrial centres, physically dividing the country, and returning it to a pre-industrial agricultural society. Never realised, the proposal nevertheless loomed large in the German imagination, used to great effect as a blunt instrument of national propaganda and incentive to fight by Joseph Goebbels.

    Rooted in one of Kiefer’s most enduring motifs - the persistence of nature and blooming of flowers amid a desolate and destroyed landscape – the series came about after Kiefer relocated to his enormous warehouse studio in Croissy and found that he couldn’t paint flowers without adding ‘a negative or cynical element.’ He explains: ‘I said to myself, “Oh, I can make a Morgenthau series. And in this series Germany will be covered with beautiful flowers, will be wonderful, because as a result of the Morgenthau Plan there will be no more industry, no more highways, just flowers.”’ii Grounded in the realities of Germany’s socio-political history and excavating the ideological and conceptual role that the landscape has played in shaping its cultural identity, Kiefer used this armature as a way of imagining an alternative pastoral history that is not only markedly different to the post-war Germany that he grew up in, but that might help us collectively come to terms with a deeply traumatic past.


    Detail of the present work 
CAPTION: Document outlining the Morgenthau Plan. Image: The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
    Left: Detail of the present work
    Right: Document outlining the Morgenthau Plan. Image: akg-images

    In its monumental scale and arresting, immersive intensity, Freia’s Garden is a paradigmatic example of Kiefer’s reinvention of the landscape tradition. Heavily impastoed, the surface is vigorously worked, its stark palette of heavy pigments creating a dramatic intensity enhanced by the inclusion of gold and silver leaf and the densely organised sheafs of corn that seemed to be shifting in the breeze. The inclusion of diverse, organic materials has become a characteristic feature of Kiefer’s painting and is used to startling effect here, elucidated by the artist as a means of allowing him to discover the spirit that is within these substances […] upheave it and display it.’iii An extension of the meditations of history and the cyclical passages of time, these materials are themselves subject to change and transformation, introducing a note of poignancy to the composition. Devoid of human presence and cultivation, this seems like a land turned back to nature, its expanse of waving corn and the vivid blues of its deep, swirling sky visually recalling the agitated surfaces of Vincent van Gogh’s last canvases.

    Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows, 1890, Vincent van Gogh Foundation, Amsterdam Image: akg-images
    Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows, 1890, Vincent van Gogh Foundation, Amsterdam. Image: akg-images

    Arresting in the equivalence of physical monumentality and the monumentality of 20th century European history, Freia’s Garden like the other Morgenthau works ‘draws us into the thick of what might have been and, in fact, was – a space where aesthetic attraction in the present scratches against historical awareness of the past to create an uncomfortable ambivalence.’iv In its challenge to the kind of cultural amnesia that artists like Kiefer – who was himself born just two months after the end of World War II – found to pervade the second half of the 20th century, the Morgenthau paintings are related to his most overtly provocative works, the early Occupations series and Heroic Symbols paintings.

    A meditative reflection on the history of landscape painting and of the role that landscape – both real and imagined - continues to play in the German psyche and cultural memory, Freia’s Garden sits at the intersection of the past and the future, the spiritual and the terrestrial, death and rebirth. It is landscape that for Kiefer is ‘deployed as the quiet witness to historical change, the vast impartial canvas upon which history is successively painted – and painted over.’v


    Collector’s Digest

    •    A deeply intellectual artist, Anselm Kiefer’s references and sources of inspiration span philosophy, poetry, theology and science. Here, the artist draws on the interweaving of myth and historical fact in shaping national identity.


    •    The subject of major international retrospectives at prestigious institutions including the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, he has most recently presented a new project in the Grand Palais Éphémère, Paris that continue his investigation not European cultural memory.


    •    Kiefer’s career spans five decades and his work can be fond in prestigious permanent collections including the Tate, London, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

    i Kathleen Soriano, ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’, in Anselm Kiefer, (exh. cat.), Royl Academy of Arts, London, 2014, p. 21.
    ii Anselm Kiefer, ‘Beauty Needs a Foundation: A Conversation with Anselm Kiefer’, Jane Sirén, Anselm Kiefer: Beyond Landscape, (exh. cat.), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 2013, p. 28. 
    iii Anslem Kiefer, quoted in Kathleen Soriano, ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’, in Anselm Kiefer, (exh. cat.), Royl Academy of Arts, London, 2014, p. 21. 
    iv Joe Martin Lin-Hill, ‘Making Meaning Beyond Landscapes’, Anselm Kiefer: Beyond Landscape, (exh. cat.), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 2013, p. 44.
    v Joe Martin Lin-Hill, ‘Making Meaning Beyond Landscapes’, Anselm Kiefer: Beyond Landscape, (exh. cat.), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 2013, p. 31. 

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Paris
      White Cube, London
      Private Collection, London
      White Cube, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Royal Academy of Arts, Anselm Kiefer, 27 September - 14 December 2014, no. 72, p. 227 (illustrated, pp. 212-213)
      São Paulo, White Cube, Anselm Kiefer Paintings, 7 April - 20 June 2015


Freia's Garden

titled 'Freia's Garden' upper left
acrylic, emulsion, oil, shellac, metal, plaster, gold leaf, silver leaf, polystyrene and sediment of electrolysis on photograph mounted on canvas
340 x 470 x 10 cm (133 7/8 x 185 x 3 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

£700,000 - 1,000,000 ‡♠

Sold for £869,500

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022