In Anselm Kiefer’s Weichsel, 1977, a horse charges across an impasto landscape of charred and blackened ground. Faint, hopeful lines of blue delicately frame the animal’s face and form the thin ribbons of the river. The title of the painting is the German translation of Vistula, the longest river in Poland and historically a contentious territory battled over by both Russia and Germany. From the late-1970s to the early 1980s, several of Kiefer’s works referenced the Vistula, particularly its role in the Second World War, and other works from this series are held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In the 1930s, the region was key to Germany’s invasion of Poland, as much of the country’s cavalry was outnumbered at the river’s delta. Kiefer’s horse is a symbol both of Poland’s vulnerability and, writes curator Nan Rosenthal, ‘its valiance’ (N. Rosenthal, Anselm Kiefer: Works on Paper, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998, p. 67). During this period, Kiefer’s paintings also were deeply concerned with metaphors of the forest, both for its sublime beauty, but also because the forest was understood to be the spiritual centre of the German psyche. In 1971, he and his wife Julia moved to Hornbach in the Odenwald, and the subsequent paintings are filled with images inspired by the surrounding terrain. If memorialisation and monumentality were central themes for the artist, then Weichsel looks to the terrestrial to find an enduring permanence, the past continuing into the now, a history contained in a river’s currents and horse’s hooves.