Bohemia Lies by the Sea


Anselm Kiefer –  Bohemia Lies by the Sea, 1996 – 75″ x 18’5″ – Oil, emulsion, shellac, charcoal, and powdered paint on burlap



A member of the third generation of avant-garde artists in postwar Germany, Kiefer is arguably the most important German painter since World War II. He is best known for wedding formal inventions rooted in Abstract Expressionist style to resonant subject matter from literature, history, and politics.

The composition of this painting is divided in the center by a rutted country road that recedes in very deep perspective toward an extremely high horizon. On the center ridge of the road and in the fields on either side grow pink-orange flowers, identified by the artist as poppies. In the horizon at the left, the artist has inscribed “Böhmen liegt am Meer” (Bohemia lies by the sea).

The artist’s iconography is highly original, with complex layers of meaning enriched by irony and contradiction. Kiefer has taken the title of this landscape-Bohemia Lies by the Sea-from that of a famous poem by the renowned Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann (who must have been inspired by Shakespeare’s stage direction in his play The Winter’s Tale, Scene III-Bohemia. A desert Country near the Sea). He thereby atttaches to his painting the theme of Bachmann’s poem, which is in essence about longing for utopia while recognizing that it can never be found (just as the former kingdom of Bohemia, landlocked in Central Europe, can never lie by the sea).



About Michael Johnson

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