Part of a generation of young German painters dubbed Neo-Expressionists during the 1980s, Anselm Kiefer has explored German myth and history in his art since the early 1970s. Woodcut, the only printmaking technique Kiefer uses, has played a central role in his work. However, rather than creating conventional prints published in standard editions, he incorporates woodcuts into paintings, groups them together to create works that rival the grand scale of his paintings, or uses them in his many illustrated books. To date he has completed approximately one hundred works incorporating the woodcut technique.
In 1970 Kiefer began to study with Joseph Beuys at the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf, where, under Beuys's influence, he embarked on a personal examination of the troubled legacy of Germany's past. He incorporated a wide range of diverse materials into his work, including photographs, straw, tar, lead, sand, and dried plants, as well as woodcut, a technique with a long and distinguished history in German art.
Richard Wagner's opera cycle The Ring and the tragic fate of its protagonists Siegfried and Brunhilde form the backdrop for Grane. The heroic role of Brunhilde's horse, Grane, is a recurring motif in Kiefer's work. Here the horse is engulfed in the funeral pyre into which the heroine rides at a climactic moment in the opera. Kiefer's book Der Rhein can be seen as his response to the German tradition of landscape painters such as Caspar David Friedrich and others of the Romantic period. It epitomizes his use of the book format as an evocative metaphor for the communication of collective knowledge and memory.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Harper Montgomery, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 210.