The title of this work derives from the poem Todesfuge by the Romanian-Jewish poet Paul Celan. He writes this poem in 1945 as a result of his experiences with the horrors of the holocaust. Kiefer makes various paintings, watercolours and painted photographs based on this poem.

Polar opposites

Celan presents two female figures in Todesfuge: the blue-eyed Margarete with ‘golden’ hair, a symbol of the Aryan woman, and the dark-eyed Sulamith with ‘ashen’ hair, a symbol of the Jewish people. She is described in the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament as a bride of exceptional beauty. Celan links the two women inextricably by making them polar opposites.

Sign of mourning

The straw that Kiefer uses in this painting might refer to the blond hair of Margarete, but it may also, particularly considering the title, refer to Sulamith. With the background of the painting blackened, as it were, the straw is grey in places. The Sulamith celebrated in the Song of Solomon is a heartbroken woman who has sprinkled her hair with ashes as a sign of mourning.