Lot 27
  • 27

Anselm Kiefer

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Anselm Kiefer
  • Böhmen liegt am Meer
  • titled
  • mixed media on paper laid down on canvas in artist's frame

  • 106 by 304 by 10cm.
  • 41 3/4 by 119 1/2 by 3 7/8 in.
  • Executed in 1989-98.


Private Collection, Germany


The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is brighter and more vibrant in the original. This work is in very good condition. Close inspection reveals a vertical hairline tear towards the upper left corner, beneath the lettering Meer. No restoration is apparent under ultraviolet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Executed between 1989 and 1998, Anselm Kiefer's breathtaking work Böhmen Liegt am Meer is the very significant antecedent of the directly comparable and equally masterful painting Bohemia Lies by the Sea of 1996, which was purchased by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1997. Kiefer's hugely impressive artwork is exactly characteristic of his historically significant, world-renowned and uniquely poetic aesthetic dialect. Laden with impasto, shellac, thorns, branches and text, the corporeality of the work's appearance recounts the processes of Kiefer's expressive technique. Beneath a pale strip of dark sky Kiefer casts a wild terrain of earthen countryside with chaotic and projecting plant matter punctuated by golden red poppies. The tactile materiality of paint and thorny vines that are viscerally embedded in the heavily textured surface invest the canvas with an extraordinary sculptural presence, while the high horizon asserts a vertiginous perspective and allows the tableau to be filled with this urgent assault of media. The denseness of the surface communicates the richness of the landscape, and also parallels the many layers of iconographic resonance and possibilities.

The title for the present work stems from a pivotal 1964 poem by the influential twentieth-century poet Ingeborg Bachmann. Born in Austria in 1926, Bachmann studied philosophy, psychology, German philology and law at the universities of Innsbruck, Graz and Vienna before she moved to Rome in 1953, where she remained until her premature death in 1973. Her poem Böhmen Liegt am Meer or Bohemia Lies by the Sea was in turn inspired by the stage directions for Scene III of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, namely "Bohemia. A desert Country near the Sea". The text expresses her deeply held belief in the utopian potential of poetry and the ultimately redemptive capacity of literature, as evident in this extract:

If love's labour's lost in every age, I'll gladly lose it here.

If it's not me, it's one who is as good as me.

If a word here borders on me, I'll let it border.
If Bohemia still lies by the sea, I'll believe in the sea again.
And believing in the sea, thus I can hope for land.

If it's me, then it's anyone, for he's as worthy as me.

While Bachmann's poem longs for this utopian state, the enlistment of the Kingdom of Bohemia, landlocked at the centre of Europe and in reality very distant from the sea, as central metaphor and fundamental condition of her belief in this ideal existence is itself profoundly ironic.

Anselm Kiefer's great contribution to the history of art is his complex amalgamation of a variety of materials and paint within a narrative structure drawn from grand historical, mythological and literary sources. Kiefer's objective is to transform his canvas into something extraordinary and sublime, much like the process of alchemy which is inherently linked with his work. As Daniel Arasse observes words are integral to the composition and to our understanding of Kiefer's art: "The images of Anselm Kiefer are inhabited, haunted by words, be they visible words, readable in his painting, or those that are invisible, either because they're buried under newer layers, or because, accompanying Kiefer throughout his work, they've been deposited, displaced, transformed until what is left to be seen are only those that will give their name, finally, to the work. This active presence of a verbal thought, at work in the work, manifests itself also by the themes (literary, historical or mythical) that Kiefer treats, and by the impressive dimension of his iconography, in the most classic meaning of the term, but made rigorously personal and up-to-date by his appropriation" (Daniel Arasse in Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, Galerie Yvon Lambert, Anselm Kiefer: Cette obscure clarté qui tombe des étoiles, 1996, n.p.)

As Mark Rosenthal has described, for Kiefer the land is a "metaphysical place where the artist attempts to understand complex ideas and themes and then integrate them into his physical surrounding. This place is the mind itself, at once malleable and steadfast, a filter through which concepts are pondered, invented, buried or transformed. Secret rites are performed there, and history is reordered; all is possible" (Exhibition Catalogue, Chicago, Art Institute and Philadelphia, Museum of Art, Anselm Kiefer, 1987 p. 22). Kiefer paints the portrait of a place pregnant with memory and narrative. By engaging the more metaphysical implications of landscape as the boundary of humankind's mortal existence he echoes the ideologies of his teacher Joseph Beuys. Our existence is conditioned by experience, which is in turn related to comprehending environments. The concept of place as the facilitator of events leads to the understanding of landscape as the container of memory. Here Kiefer transforms his painting's quotidian constituents – canvas, paint, thorns, branches, shellac and dirt - into something of extreme metaphorical significance. This painting thus evokes the transformative effect and alchemical potential that is inherent to and characteristic of his best work. As ever, Kiefer's frame of reference is dense and complex, and cannot be unravelled via a single route of explanation. Indeed, the present work demonstrates the importance of each viewer's singular ontological response to Kiefer's corpus: although he speaks in a language that is elusive and indefinable, it remains powerfully direct and affecting. Despite the figurative elements of landscape, the purpose of this work harbours profound and multivalent philosophical and emotional import, which marks it as a truly phenomenal artistic achievement.