Anselm Kiefer was born the year the Second World War ended, and as he grew up he witnessed the efforts made by the country to recover from the great defeat and overcome painful feelings of guilt. Obsessed with that terrible period, he spent twenty years exploring the myths and history of German nationalism through his painting, questioning, through his choice of images and themes, certain taboos in the German conscience, in an attempt at social reconciliation. Kiefer studied at academies in Freiburg, Karlsruhe, and finally in Düsseldorf, where Joseph Beuys became his mentor. From 1969 to 1990 he produced symbolic, narrative painting with an existentialist tone, not straying far from the Romantic idea of the artist as a visionary. His imagery draws inspiration from German literature and history, Wagnerian opera and the history of Nazism, as well as mythology, theology, biblical history and even alchemy. ‘I work with symbols that link our consciousness to the past. Symbols create a kind of simultaneous continuity and we remember our origins,’ he explained in 1980. In 1991, the year of the reunification of Germany, he undertook a long journey through a number of countries until, in 1993, he settled in the south of France, in Barjac, where he lives now. The same year, he presented an exhibition entitled Twenty Years of Loneliness at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. The show featured three hundred paintings done at different moments of his life, which had been piled up in apparent disorder, as if they had been thrown away. The exhibition seemed to mark the end of an era, a farewell or, as some have interpreted it, a kind of exorcism of the drama these paintings represented. He did not exhibit again until three years later. His new work retained the earlier existentialist and symbolic spirit, but references to the German question were replaced by a mystical, transcendent vision of humanity, built up from an intricate web of references to different spiritual traditions.