Lot 35
  • 35

Anselm Kiefer

350,000 - 450,000 GBP
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  • Anselm Kiefer
  • Die Ungeborenen
  • variously inscribed on the reverse
  • acrylic, emulsion, oil, shellac and photographic paper laid down on canvas 
  • 190.5 by 281.5cm.; 75 1/8 by 110 3/4 in.
  • Executed in 2013.


Galleria Lia Rumma, Naples 

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2014


Naples, Galleria Lia Rumma, Anselm Kiefer: Walther Von Der Vogelweide Für Lia, 2013


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is deeper and richer in the original and fails to convey the iridescent nature of the sulphate crystals. Condition: This work is in very good and original condition. There is a small loss to an impasto peak towards the lower left corner and an area of loss to the underside of the center edge. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra-violet 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

From the heady torrents of distinctively earthy impasto in Anselm Kiefer's Die Ungeborenen emerge delicate intimations of stalks and petals which bloom in sensuous reds, pinks and ethereal wisps of grey – these fragile flowers punctuate the landscape and emanate from a heavy ground that keeps them rooted to their own mortality and history. “Rubble is like the blossom of a plant”, said Kiefer in his 2008 acceptance speech for the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels, “it is the radiant high point of an incessant metabolism, the beginning of a rebirth” (Anselm Kiefer quoted in: Richard Davey, ‘In the Beginning is the End and in the End is the Beginning’in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Royal Academy of Arts, Anselm Kiefer, 2014, p. 49). These radiant flowers, like rubble, thus represent the homunculus of worldly formation; they are the essence of transformative power manifested in physical form. This nascent potentiality is apparent in the present work’s sibylline title Die Ungeborenen, which translates from the German as ‘The Unborn’ – a notion that Kiefer has been grappling with for many years. Attesting to the importance of the present work, other works from the Die Ungeborenen series can be found in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven as well as forming the title of Kiefer’s solo show, which inaugurated Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac’s new exhibition space in Paris Pantin in 2012.

Kiefer approaches the subject of the unborn with unbounded curiosity, and, exploring an emotive discourse of the title Die Ungeborenen Kiefer describes the term as “the desire of not wanting to be born” (Anselm Kiefer quoted in: Exhibition, Paris, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Anself Kiefer: Die Ungeborenen Press Release, 2012, online resource). Expanding on this premise Kiefer assumes the possibility of divine creation by eschewing Biblical stories with typically Kieferian sobriety: “Cry of the prophets, the revolt of Job. It would have been better if you had never been born! ... The retrograde movement of creation. Theodicy, the accident of creation, God’s regret to have fathered this ungrateful being, this outlaw, who does not abide to the contract” (Ibid.). Although an atheist, Kiefer is nevertheless fascinated by mankind’s dependence on divine solutions and speculating God’s existence allows Kiefer dramatic recourse to explore and critique the expanded spirituality of mankind. Through Kiefer’s dogmatic conceptualisation, the title Die Ungeborenen therefore instils the painting not only with the weight of mortality and emptiness, but also the boundless possibilities, both good and bad, offered up by religion.

Yet, these abstract and somewhat transcendent ideas are grounded in a definite sense of reality insofar that Kiefer has masterfully merged form with the formless so that individual objects appear to emerge and dissolve simultaneously into the sculpted landscape of paint. Through his liberal application of materials onto canvas, Kiefer infuses Die Ungeborenen with the spiritual majesty of great Abstract Expressionist works whilst concurrently employing a potent visual and material narrative; as Kiefer describes it, painting is a "ceaseless shuttling back and forth between nothing and something, a constant going from one state to another" (Anselm Kiefer, et. al., Art Will Survive its Ruins: Anselm Kiefer at the Collège de France, Paris 2011, p. 191). Oscillating between chaos and order, Die Ungeborenen is reflective of Kiefer’s own interclasped conceptions of the world, which link the disorder of stars with the formality of the atom, mortality with transcendence and death with creation. Not only is Kiefer here revealing his inimitable skill as a painter, but by basing Die Ungeborenen on the abstract and also on the figurative, he allows the work to brim with both emotion and history.

Like his eminent paintings Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant iustumLaßt tausend Blumen blühen! and Böhmen liegt am Meer, the flowers and barren field in Die Ungeborenen recall the poppy fields which grew in No Man’s Land and serve to grapple with the incipient air of war's aftermath. Kiefer was born just two months before the end of the Second World War, finding himself surrounded by the detritus of conflict's unfathomable loss. During years of sustained allied bombing the inhabitants of the small towns in the Black Forest where Kiefer grew up had fled to the natural shelter of the surrounding wooded areas as their homes were reduced to rubble. And so, deprived of conventional toys, a boyish Kiefer would collect the debris from his neighbourhood to construct small dwellings in which to play. Kiefer's early obsession with construction evidently informed his later artistic career where the parallels of creation and destruction as well as his exaltation of nature have become prolific leitmotifs. Die Ungeborenen then is a masterful survey of many of Kiefer’s most important, long-serving, and delicate themes. The turbulent landscape spreads out before the viewer as the resplendent debris of the artist’s history, impregnated with the sublime and the promise of new beginnings.