How Does the Addition of Natural Elements affect the significance of Anselm Kiefer’s Vitrine Painting: Fitzcarraldo (2010)? – 500 word Essay


Anselm Kiefer is known for his innovative use of varied and often unconventional materials within painting “a reinvention of traditional forms” (Simon Schama, 1996, p.124). Continuing themes within the works include war, nature and history. More recently, works have incorporated thorn bushes and branches encased in vitrines in the foreground of forestry paintings, as seen here in the work entitled “Fitzcarraldo” (2010). Within constellation, I have learnt about how the use of found/pre-made objects that have connotations of their own, can add meaning to contemporary artwork.. I intend to discuss how the addition of natural materials to Kiefer’s work affects the significance of the piece in question.

The German Forest has been a recurring theme in his practice throughout his artistic career. Kiefer was born in 1945 and grew up in the devastation of war, “a child of the rubble” (Michael Prodger, 2014). Kiefer’s “parents hid with him in the forest during day-time air raids” and so for him the “tall bare, bewilderingly numerous tree trunks” (Christian Weikop, 2014) emit connotations of war and fear. The element of fear is heightened by the fact that there seems to be no way out . “There is no sense of any clearing through the forest, the viewer is entrapped by trunks” (Christian Weikop, 2014). You could claim that the addition of foliage in relief, adds significance to the feeling of entrapment, as if the natural elements almost create a second forest in themselves. However, this could also take away from it as the organic matter is separate from the trees and emits the impression of being on the forests edge looking in.

The addition of thorn bushes and branches with no greenery on them suggests a wintery feel and adds significance to the piece because of the association winter and snow has with the holocaust, “where the jews were forced to march miles across cold, snowy landscapes barefoot to their death”. The thorns add a sense of danger and negativity to the work. Furthermore, thorn bushes have christian connotations, linking the piece to the religious predjudice surrounding wartime. The fact that the natural elements have been removed from their environment and allowed to die makes the feeling of loss of life more prominent.

The title “Fitzcarraldo” evokes the determination of Carlos Fitzcarrold, a Peruvian Rubber Baron who transported a 30 tonne steamboat over mountainous terrain. This could be seen as echoing the determination of the heroic soldiers who fought in war. Organic Matter existing in the piece gives it a three dimensional impression. “By adding found materials to the painted surface of his immense tableaux, he invents a compelling third space between painting and sculpture” (White Cube, 2014) It can be argued that the viewer experiences a greater connection with the forest as they can imagine reaching out and touching the branches. However, the natural objects could be detracting from the forestry.

After analysing the image, I have come to the conclusion that the addition of natural elements adds significance to the forest in war time and to the work as a whole. The German landscape was desolate from the effects of WWII and I feel that the addition of branches with no life on them adds significance to the tradgedies. Adding natural materials to “Fitzcarraldo” gives the viewer a more immersive and sensory experience of the work and echoes “the gritty materiality of historical truth” (Simon Schama, 1996, p.126).