Wild Emperor

Artist: Anselm Kiefer (German, born Donaueschingen, 1945)

Date: 1975

Medium: Watercolor and acrylic on paper

Dimensions: 6 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. (16.5 x 24.1 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Purchase, Molly and Walter Bareiss Gift, 1995

Accession Number: 1995.14.11


Kiefer's works are layered terrains of cultural references: to myth, political history, literature, architecture, and music. Working in Germany, the artist wants the horrors of the past acknowledged, but he also wants the richness of German culture redeemed. Although Kiefer is best known as a painter (see Bohemia Lies by the Sea, 1997.4a,b), he has produced a prodigious number of works on paper (watercolors, mixed media, and prints) throughout his career that range in size from intimate to monumental. In this little drawing, Kiefer adheres to his idea that a very big subject-whether cultural, as in the philosophy of Heidegger, or geological, as in the Alps here-is often best rendered in a small format.

The limestone massif of the Kaiser mountain range in the northern Tyrol is composed of two ridge peaks. The higher is the Wilder Kaiser (wild emperor); the less jagged is the Zahmer Kaiser (tame emperor). Kiefer chose to represent the Wilder Kaiser with white acrylic emulsion primer that rises in relief from the center of the watercolor ground. Possibly it amused him that there is a conceptual if not exactly chemical connection between the limestone of the Kaiser range, the traditional chalky art material, gesso, and the synthetic "gesso" substitute he was using to shape his mountain.

Kiefer had not seen the Austrian Alps at the time he made this drawing but was working from a map. In writing, he included another famous mountain known as the Predigtstuhl (pulpit), located both in the drawing and in reality to the northeast of the Wilder Kaiser. Its altitude, 2,093 meters, is provided as well. Kiefer observed that he could have referenced any number of famous alpine peaks in this composition but that the names of these two had "poetic value."