Lot 36
  • 36

Anselm Kiefer

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Anselm Kiefer
  • Dem Unbekannten Maler (To The Unknown Painter)
  • titled
  • acrylic and shellac on woodcut on paper laid down on canvas
  • 245 by 379 cm. 96 1/2 by 149 1/4 in.
  • Executed in 1982.


Helen van der Meij Gallery, Amsterdam

Sonnabend Gallery, New York

Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in 1993) 

Sotheby’s, London, 21 June 2006, Lot 44 (consigned by the above) 

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Amsterdam, Helen van der Meij Gallery, Anselm Kiefer: Woodcuts, 1982 

London, Tate Liverpool; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie; Tübingen, Kunsthalle Tübingen; Hamburg, Deichtorhallen Hamburg; and Vienna, Bank Austria Kunstforum, Sammlungsblöcke: Stiftung Froehlich, May 1996 - August 1997, pp. 82-83, no. 128, illustrated in colour

Liverpool, Tate Gallery, Contemporary German and American Art from the Froehlich Collection, June - August 1999, n.p., illustrated

Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst, Kunst Sammeln, December 1999 - March 2000, p. 78, illustrated in colour 

Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst, on loan, 2001-06

Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Expressiv!, March - August 2003, p. 163, illustrated in colour


Exh. Cat., Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago (and travelling), Anselm Kiefer, December 1987 - January 1989, p. 106, no. 69, illustrated


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"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

"The cry resounds like thunder's peal,
Like crashing waves and clang of steel:
The Rhine, the Rhine, our German Rhine,
Who will defend our stream, divine?"

Max Schneckenburger
From, Die Wacht am Rhein, (The Watch on the Rhine), 1840

Ferociously confronting issues of national identity and history, Anselm Kiefer’s Dem Unbekannten Maler typifies the artist’s thematic concerns of the early 1980s. Locating his critiques in universal elements of the German cultural consciousness, Kiefer’s work has often been viewed in tandem with that of Georg Baselitz, who proved equally willing to confront the residual horror of the Third Reich in the aftermath of the war. Indeed, Baselitz was one of Kiefer’s early patrons, having been astounded not only by the intellectual strength of the younger man’s paintings, but by their physical presence. In Baselitz’s words, “I had never seen such paintings before” (Georg Baselitz, cited in: Christian Weikop, ‘Georg Baselitz: Artist and Collector’, Royal Academy Blog, March 2014, online).

A key tenet of Kiefer’s practice is the notion that architecture and landscape are marked by their history. Redefining the meaning of ubiquitous symbols of German identity, he questions the essense of German-ness, and the value of such an identifier in the wake of one of history’s most disastrous waves of blind patriotism. Duly, at the beginning of the 1980s, Kiefer turned to one of the most ancient and important German symbols: the Rhine. For hundreds of years the Rhine was indelibly linked to German history and identity. Goethe, Heine and von Arnim all sung its praises as the symbol of German brotherhood, and Wagner immortalised it as a symbol of godly hubris and excess in The Ring of the Nibelung. It proved the site of some of Germany’s most catastrophic military defeats, such as the annexation of the Rhineland by Napoleon and the pivotal Rhine crossing by the Allies in the Second World War, as well as some of its great victories, such as Hitler’s conquest of the area in 1936, and the triumphant repulsion of French forces during the Franco-Prussian War. Songs paid tribute to its role as a placeholder for German national identity, and swore to defend it from outsiders. The river thus served a peculiar and unique role in the German psyche, not only as a signifier of national identity, but as a symbol of aggressive patriotism and, by dint of its constant changing of hands, of both loss and gain.

Suspended above this very real and tangible natural symbol of German identity, Kiefer places a second woodcut, this time a signifier of what might have been. Wilhelm Kreis’ Soldiers’ Hall, designed under the direction of Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect, was one of the centrepieces of Germania, the city designed to replace Berlin and serve as the capital of Europe. The monumental centre of an ascendant and triumphant Third Reich, Germania epitomised the Neo-Classical pomp and circumstance of Nazi Germany. By transposing Kreis’ design from the centre of a theoretical city to the banks of Germany’s most famous natural landmark, Kiefer associates the nineteenth-century patriotic infatuation with the Rhine with the madness of the Third Reich as a manifestation of twentieth-century partisanship. One is borne of the other, and neither can be entirely excused.

This superimposition of images has another function; it creates a monument to the 'unknown painter'. Relatively forgotten in the wake of the incomprehensible loss of human life as a result of the Second World War, the repression of artistic instinct by both the Nazi Party with their labelling of artists as 'degenerate', and the Soviets with their Purges, remains a vital part of the history of twentieth-century art. Inverting the triumphalism of the Soldiers’ Hall and channelling the rich artistic history of the Rhine, Kiefer creates a monument to the pernicious effects of dictatorial rule on the creative arts.

Spectacular in its scale and intellectual scope, Dem unbekannten Maler is an amalgam of symbols and signifiers. Locating Germany as the land of Goethe and Goebbels, Heine and Heydrich, Kiefer creates a complex allegory of history and nationhood. Rendered in Kiefer’s idiosyncratic palette of acrylic and shellac, the grainy darkness of the piece envelops the viewer, creating an overwhelming sense of devastation and loss. Dem unbekannten Maler is a profound lament, both for the events of the previous fifty years, and the horrendous human and cultural cost of their occurrence.