Legendary German painter Anselm Kiefer (born, 1945) is known for his grotesque depictions of sufferings, gore, and sarcasm inspired by the moving poetry of leading poets. Highly influenced by World War themes and Nazi anarchy, his works have drawn dissension from different corners and controversies have been surrounding them. One of Anselm Kiefer’s most famous paintings is « Margarethe, » created in the year 1981.
The painting is based on the famous poem ‘Death Fugue’ (1944) by Romanian poet Paul Celan, who was the lone survivor from one of the families the Nazis victimized. The poetry describes the murderous instincts of Hitler, and the ordeal of the refugees at the Nazi concentration camps. « Margarethe » is the last in the series of paintings based on ‘Death Fugue,’ with Margarete and Shulamite as its central characters. Margarete is a blonde woman, an artistic personification of ideal female qualities associated with German women, while Shulamite, the brunette, is a Jewish female protagonist of the ‘Song of Solomon,’ who is considered an epitome of true and selfless love. In line with Celan’s connotations, Kiefer has used the two opposite characterizations of woman to feature their intricately entangled existence and the sameness of their destinies. The locks of her golden tresses exemplified the blonde-haired woman, while grey black ash symbolized the brown-haired one.
The technique employed in « Margarethe » is the characteristic Anselm’s style of adopting multiple media, where natural earth substances, such as soil, lead, sand, straw etc, apart from colors, find a generous application. The painter has used straw, bundled in the form of golden coiffure and black-grey paint, for Shulamite’s burnt hair. The painting is a broad manifestation of the wholeness of human life that meets the same horrendous fate at the hands of a cruel perpetrator. The ashes, in the form of black shadow work, indicate the dead end of some of the victims and the golden hair represents those at the concentration camps, waiting to face similar predicament. The black color also represents the chasm, the fatality of Shulamite, created, taking away a significant portion of human existence. Margarete’s hair, too, is shown being set on fire, with small flames rising up from the loose ends of the twisted hair-locks, signaling a fast approaching, painful, and inevitable demise.
‘Death Fugue’ talks about death for the prisoners as the destiny, and also as the end of sufferings. Anselm Kiefer’s « Margarethe, » in turn, is indicative of the fact that soon Margarete will also be burnt down into ashes and will blend with Shulamite’s remains, regaining wholeness in the life after death. Until date, « Margarethe » remains one of the masterpieces of art, which is a true embodiment of the dangers, repercussions, and the vanity of human angst and power!