My Father Pledged Me a Sword, Anselm Kiefer (German, born Donaueschingen, 1945), Watercolor, gouache, and ballpoint pen on paper

My Father Pledged Me a Sword

Anselm Kiefer (German, born Donaueschingen, 1945)
Watercolor, gouache, and ballpoint pen on paper
11 1/4 x 8 1/8 in. (28.6 x 20.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1995
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© Anselm Kiefer
Not on view
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s Kiefer made numerous paintings, watercolors, woodcuts, and books on themes interpreted by composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Wagner's monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) was based on ancient Germanic mythology and the Old Norse Eddas. The sword painted here by Kiefer refers to Nothung (literally translated, "needful"), the weapon thrust into a great ash tree by Wotan, chief of the gods in Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Wagner's second opera of the cycle.

The inscription on this drawing is taken from the moonlit Scene III in Act One of The Valkyrie, in which Wotan's half-mortal son Siegmund, in need of a weapon to fight the unwanted husband of his newly beloved sister Sieglinde, cries out, "Ein Schwert Verhie? mir der Vater" ("My father pledged me a sword"). Kiefer relocates the sword to a high cliff above a fjord, where the glowing midnight sun illuminates the scene. As Kiefer has said, the sword is as dangerously inaccessible as Edelweiss, the delicate alpine flower and symbol of love that only grew high in the mountains. (Young men in the Alps traditionally risked their lives scaling cliffs to obtain this token for their beloveds). Just as Siegmund eventually dies in battle against Sieglinde's suitor, so too was the pursuit of Edelweiss often deadly, and the "needful" sword shattered into pieces.
Inscription: Inscribed (in ballpoint pen, upper center): Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater
private collection (until 1983; sold in 1983 to d'Offay); [Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London (1983–95; sold to MMA]

Kunstverein Freiburg. "Anselm Kiefer: Aquarelle 1970–1980," September 18–October 18, 1981, unnumbered cat. (as "Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater").

Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. "Anselm Kiefer," March 24–May 5, 1984, no. 102 (as "A sword did my father promise me").

ARC/Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. "Anselm Kiefer," May 11–June 21, 1984, no. 102.

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. "Anselm Kiefer," July 31–September 30, 1984, no. 102.

Art Institute of Chicago. "Anselm Kiefer," December 5, 1987–January 31, 1988, unnumbered cat. (colorpl. 34; as "My Father Promised Me a Sword," lent by a private collection).

Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Anselm Kiefer," March 6–May 1, 1988, unnumbered cat.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. "Anselm Kiefer," June 14–September 11, 1988, unnumbered cat.

Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Anselm Kiefer," October 17, 1988–January 3, 1989, unnumbered cat.

Sezon Museum of Modern Art. "Anselm Kiefer–Melancholia," June 3–July 19, 1993, no. W–11 (as "Ein Schwert verhieß mir der Vater").

National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto. "Anselm Kiefer–Melancholia," August 3–September 5, 1993, no. W–11.

Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. "Anselm Kiefer–Melancholia," September 18–October 24, 1993, no. W–11.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Anselm Kiefer: Works on Paper in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," December 15, 1998–March 21, 1999, no. 18.

New York. Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery at the Metropolitan Opera. "From the Met to the Met: Anselm Kiefer and Wagner's Ring," February 17–May 9, 2009, unnum. brochure.

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Anselm Kiefer," September 27–December 14, 2014, no. 22.

R. H. Fuchs. Anselm Kiefer. Exh. cat., Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Eindhoven, 1979, unpaginated, ill. (color), calls it "Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater" and dates it 1974.

R. H. Fuchs. Anselm Kiefer: Aquarelle 1970–1980. Exh. cat., Kunstverein Freiburg. Freiburg, 1981, unpaginated.

Jürgen Harten in Anselm Kiefer. Exh. cat., Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Dusseldorf, 1984, pp. 38, 175, no. 102, fig. 16.

Mark Rosenthal. Anselm Kiefer. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago and Philadelphia, 1987, colorpl. 34.

Mark Rosenthal, Akira Moriguchi, Sawako Ogiwara, Etsuko Sugiyama, Junsi Magara, and Takashi Suzuki in Anselm Kiefer: Melancholia. Exh. cat.Tokyo, 1993, p. 123.

Nan Rosenthal in "Recent Acquisitions: A Selection 1994–1995." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 53 (Autumn 1995), p. 68.

Nan Rosenthal. Anselm Kiefer: Works on Paper in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, p. 48, no. 18, ill. p. 49 (color).

Christian Weikop in Anselm Kiefer. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 2014, pp. 45–46, 225, no. 22, ill. p. 95 (color).

Daniel Arasse. Anselm Kiefer. 2nd ed. [1st ed., 2010]. London, 2014, ill. p. 141 (color).

Doïna Lemny in Anselm Kiefer. Ed. Jean-Michel Bouhours. Exh. cat., Centre Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne, Galerie I. Paris, 2015, p. 144, ill. (color).