Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)
Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)

Le Dormeur du val (The Sleeper in the Valley)

Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)
Le Dormeur du val (The Sleeper in the Valley)
titled 'le dormeur du Val' (upper centre)
mixed media on canvas
76 3/8 x 220 7/8in. (194 x 561cm.)
Executed in 2010
Yvon Lambert, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2010 (on long-term loan to Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht).
Deurle, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Collectie Jeanne & Charles Vandenhove, 2013, p. 158 (installation view illustrated in colour, pp. 17 & 150-151).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

Le Dormeur du val is one of two works by Anselm Kiefer being offered for sale in this auction in order to benefit the Vandenhove Centre for Architecture and Art at the University of Ghent. Created in 2010, it was acquired that year from the Yvon Lambert Gallery in Paris by the renowned Belgian architect Charles Vandenhove. The work was subsequently put on exhibition for many years in the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht. In 2012, the Vandenhoves agreed to donate their art collection to the University of Ghent, as well as the means to build a pavilion to house a study centre. Kiefer’s Le Dormeur du val and Katarina (1999) were part of this major gift, which also included further works by Kiefer, and works by other artists such as Pierre Soulages, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Simon Hantaï, Pierre Alechinsky, and Barry Flanagan. Le Dormeur du val and Katarina are now being offered for sale by the King Baudouin Foundation on behalf of the university to aid the functioning of its Vandenhove Centre, an interfaculty study centre in which the department of Architecture & Urban Planning and the department of Art, Music and Theatre Studies work together for education and research in the field of architecture and the arts.

At nearly six metres long and two metres high, Le Dormeur du val (The Sleeper in the Valley) is a vast, panoramic painting that belongs to a series of works, all bearing this title, that Kiefer painted between 2010 and 2012. ‘Le Dormeur du val’ is the title of a favourite poem of Kiefer’s, written by Arthur Rimbaud in 1870, describing a soldier peacefully sleeping in a pastoral idyll. The soldier is, it is finally revealed in the last line of the poem, in fact not asleep but dead.

With their monumental depictions of ploughed fields blooming with floral life in the lower foreground (here, poppies), Kiefer’s Le Dormeur du val paintings are works that themselves form part of a wider cycle of pictures in Kiefer’s oeuvre, all devoted to the universal theme of ruin and renewal. Centred upon scenes of a ploughed and rejuvenating landscape, Kiefer’s Le Dormeur du val paintings belong to an extended series of flower-based paintings that the artist began making around the turn of the millennium, with the series entitled Lasst 1000 Blümen blühen (Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom). These pictures drew upon similar landscapes as that shown in the present work, but included a statue of Chairman Mao with his arm raised in a Nazi-like salute. In this way these paintings invoked the cyclical path of resurrection and decay that not only underpins all existence but also the path of political history and the perennial rise and fall of dictators like Mao.

The central theme of all such ‘flowered’ landscapes is, in one respect, founded upon a hermetic belief, first articulated by the 17th Century alchemist Robert Fludd, that ‘every star in heaven has its equivalent flower upon the earth’. Within this context, such decidedly earth-based paintings as Kiefer’s Le Dormeur du val, the Lasst 1000 Blümen blühen series and his Palm-Sunday-invoking Aperiatur terra paintings of 2005-6, form a kind of earthly counterpart to the numerous star paintings (such as the The Secret Life of Plants series), that, from the late 1990s onwards, Kiefer has also repeatedly produced. The common thread running through all these different, blooming landscapes (and star-scapes) is an often-Kabbalistic invocation of the individual’s path through life being a mystical, and ultimately cyclical, journey between the realms of heaven and earth, in an endlessly recurring cycle of life, death and resurrection.

With its high horizon line and panoramic ploughed fields sprouting into life in the foreground, a landscape such as Le Dormeur du val is one that both revisits and re-invokes the iconography of some of Kiefer’s most important pictures of the 1970s. Likewise, the heavily-textured surface of oil emulsion and shellac that Kiefer has used displays a flourishing of the artist’s acquired mastery of the mixed-media technique that he has persistently employed ever since these early years in his career. In his adopting of the title of Rimbaud’s poem about a landscape with a dead soldier, Kiefer’s Le Dormeur du val paintings also recall, if not resurrect, one of the most common themes of his work of the 1970s: the repeated subject of the ‘Unknown Soldier’ and his mythically-imagined counterpart, the ‘Unknown Painter’. This was a figure that Kiefer often sought to symbolise by incorporating the mysterious shape of a palette hovering over the landscape.

In an essay on Kiefer’s flower landscapes of the early 2000s, Alex Danchev has suggested that the fatal ‘red holes’ that convey to the reader the lifeless condition of the soldier in Rimbaud’s poem are, for Kiefer, connected with ‘the blood on the last letter that Vincent van Gogh stuffed in his pocket on the day he shot himself’. If this is so, then Kiefer’s earlier conflating of the landscape and a dead soldier/painter in his pictures on the tomb of the ‘Unknown Soldier’ and the ‘Unknown Painter’ are also revisited and re-invoked in this work. And, not only this, but in a way that, because it concerns both Rimbaud, Van Gogh and Kiefer’s own illustrious past, (as a fellow journeyman painter), is all the more poignant (A. Danchev ‘The Silage of History’, in Anselm Kiefer, Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom, exh. cat. White Cube, London 2012, p. 8).

The spectre of Van Gogh and his art has, of course, haunted Kiefer’s work from the very beginning of his career: from his early field paintings to the fields of sunflowers that he found in Barjac, right up until the present day. Such a conflation of many different themes, as here in Le Dormeur du val, coming together within one image and with one theme actively permeating and invoking another, is a typical feature of Kiefer’s work. As Anthony Bond has written of the multiple and ongoing series of flowering landscapes that Kiefer has continued to paint throughout the 21st Century, it is also one that has become ever more so as his work has developed over the years. ‘It is important to understand that Kiefer’s art does not form a linear progression; he returns to themes and even titles repeatedly and he always has more than one body of work under way in one or other of his purpose-built studios. There has naturally been a development in the content. As a young man in post-war Germany he gave a priority to dealing with the Holocaust but this interest has expanded beyond that formative experience to embrace the history of civilizations and the nature of human consciousness. While the ideas that inform one work do not necessarily lead on to the next, certain key ideas circulate continuously. Similarly, Kiefer’s technology is accumulative rather than progressive: he adds new ideas and materials to his existing arsenal but has not ceased working with any of his earlier techniques’ (A. Bond, ‘Fields of Reference’, in Anselm Kiefer, Aperiatur Terra, exh. cat. White Cube, London 2007, p. 55).

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