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Anselm Kiefer's Der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2012

Anselm Kiefer (German, born 1945). Der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2012. Emulsion and acrylic on photograph on canvas, 110 x 224 inches (279.4 x 569 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 2013 (2013:6a-c). Image courtesy the Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Charles Duprat.

Beyond Landscape

Featuring Anselm Kiefer’s der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2012, and die Milchstrasse (The Milky Way), 1985-87

Conceptual Basis

Best known for his monumental textured paintings, German artist Anselm Kiefer’s encrusted surfaces of thick impasto confront themes of memory, history, identity, and culture. Through texture, Kiefer’s landscape paintings portray rough emotions and symbols with meaning to the artist. In this lesson, students will explore the principles of texture and landscape while reflecting on the personal significance landscapes may have on different people’s lives. 

Featured Works

Anselm Kiefer
(German, born 1945)
der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2012
Emulsion and acrylic on photograph on canvas
110 x 224 inches (279.4 x 569 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 2013, and Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Anselm Kiefer's der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2012
Image courtesy the Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Charles Duprat.

Anselm Kiefer
(German, born 1945)
die Milchstrasse (The Milky Way), 1985–87
Emulsion paint, oil, acrylic, and shellac on canvas with applied wires and lead
150 x 222 inches (381 x 563.9 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
In Celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, General and Restricted Purchase Funds, 1988

Anselm Kiefer's die Milchstrasse (The Milky Way), 1985-87

Lesson Objectives

  • Become familiar with the artist Anselm Kiefer.
  • Focus on the element of texture, including the difference between implied and actual texture. 
  • Support the understanding of basic art elements and principles.
  • Younger students will explore the creation of implied texture using computer programing. 
  • Middle-grade students will learn how war affects a landscape. 
  • Older students will learn about Kiefer’s use of landscape as a vehicle for themes such as memory, history, and spirituality. 
  • Middle and older students will create a personally meaningful landscape with emphasis on texture.


Younger students

  • Real flowers 
  • Digital image of landscapes
  • Computer device such as desktop, laptop, or tablet
  • Computer drawing program such as Microsoft Paint
  • Printer (optional)

Middle and older students

  • Canvas board
  • Large image of a landscape (older students: a landscape with a personal meaning)
  • Matte medium
  • Glue sticks
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Textural materials (such as sand, straw, clay)

Background Information for Teachers

About the Artist

Born in 1945 in Germany at the end of World War II, Anselm Kiefer grew up in the post-war landscape. After studying law, Kiefer began pursuing the arts in the late 1960s. Kiefer often symbolically refers to his culture and identity as a German living after World War II. Landscapes, like many of Kiefer’s work, serve as a vehicle to address larger themes such as memory, identity, knowledge, and spirituality.

About the Art

Der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2012: Almost impressionistic in nature, the floral landscape depicted in Anselm Kiefer’s der Morgenthau Plan (The Morgenthau Plan), 2012, was created by painting over a large photograph the artist took of the wildflowers in the fields outside his studio in Barjac, France. This work is large in scale and consists of paint that has been thickly applied, attributes that are typical of the artist’s landscape paintings.

Kiefer’s work often has multiple layers of meaning. In this landscape, the vibrant flowers in the field are more than simply flowers—they also serve as a symbol of a dark moment in history referenced in the title of the work. Conceived by former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., in 1944 as an action plan for Germany after World War II, the Morgenthau Plan called for the total de-industrialization of Germany and a return to an agricultural nation. Had this plan been implemented, it is believed it would have led to the death of more than ten million Germans. The Marshall Plan, which was adopted, gave Germany aid to rebuild and maintain their industrial economy.

Kiefer saturates this work with a second layer of meaning by titling this work der Morgenthau Plan: the field of flowers references both the flowers that would have grown in the agrarian Germany brought about by the plan, and the darker side of human nature.

Die Milchstrasse (The Milky Way), 1985–87Embodying the feeling of despair or loss upon viewing a seemingly barren and desolate field, this landscape could be based on what the artist saw around him during his childhood in western Germany. Kiefer incorporates many objects into the work and adhered to the canvas. A lead funnel can be seen hanging in the middle of the canvas. The funnel is intended to refer to the medieval practice of alchemy by which it was believed that lead could be transformed into gold. This idea of something simple changed into something extraordinary reminds the viewer of the possibility of transformation. 

The funnel leads into a white gash near the center of the painting that also includes the title, die Milchstrasse, or “the Milky Way.” The white gash brings lightness to the painting as a glow seems to spread out across the barren landscape from the funnel, anchored in this white gash. Upon closer viewing, one can see that the landscape is not completely desolate: there is hope represented through some light spreading across the center of the field. 

Vocabulary for Students

texture: physical feel of a touchable sensation on a surface area

implied texture: appearance of a touchable sensation on a surface area

The Morgenthau Plan: post-World War II plan that proposed the deindustrialization of Germany

landscape: picture of a natural scene of land

Building Visual Literacy: Art Detectives

For a fun activity to support class discussion and visual literacy, students can piece together clues about an artwork like a detective. During a discussion, students can view the different elements of the work. Studying the work, they can identify key features and assess their feelings about what they see. Ask students to consider what other clues can be collected by looking at the title. Based on the evidence they have collected, students can draw conclusions about what the artwork represents. With students working in groups, this detective activity can be a way to approach looking at and talking about art. When viewing der Morgenthau Plan and die Milchstrasse, ask students to describe what they see. Do they look like places they have been before? Ask students to describe any elements or principles of art that they may observe, including color, line, movement, and texture. Can students describe the textures that they see with adjectives? 

To create der Morgenthau Plan, Anselm Kiefer photographed fields of wildflowers outside of his studio. He printed one photograph on large sheets of paper, fitting the sheets over the canvas. Kiefer then painted directly on top of the photograph. He also used different materials, adding them into his painting. Some materials included ash, straw, and even glass. Explain Kiefer’s artmaking process to your students. 

For a deeper discussion about the artwork for middle and older students, create an interdisciplinary connection to Social Studies through the discussion about World War II and German culture during that time. Explain to students that Kiefer, as a child, grew up in a country that was still damaged from war. During World War II, aerial strikes heavily damaged the landscape, buildings, roadways, and railways in Germany. After the war, the Morgenthau Plan was proposed, which would have deindustrialized Germany, reverting it to an agricultural nation, in turn leading to the death of millions of Germans. Ask students why the floral landscape might have the title der Morgenthau Plan. Can students identify different feelings the artist may have felt about the proposed plan? Have students brainstorm different landscapes that they may have seen. Compare and contrast the landscapes that Kiefer may have experienced as a child and their personal experiences with landscape. 

Breaking down the different layers of meaning in an artwork allows students to build abstract thoughts based on concrete observations. It is an interactive way to teach visual literacy in your classroom.

Sensory Activity: Touch Texture

In this hands-on activity, students will experience implied and actual texture using the senses of touch and sight. Introduce students to actual texture through the sense of touch. Bring in flowers for students to handle and touch. If weather permits, students can find flowers outside. Ask students to use adjectives to describe the texture (soft, fuzzy, smooth, etc.); it is helpful to write these words down. You can also discuss the different parts of flowers with your students. Explain to students that when they touch an object, they are feeling the object’s actual texture.

To discover implied texture, show students paintings of flowers such as Henri Rousseau’s Flowers in a Vase, 1909, in the collection of the Albright-Knox. While looking at the paintings, ask students to describe how the flowers would feel. Again, ask students to use descriptive words to describe the texture that they see. Explain to students that when they are viewing the flowers in the paintings, the artists created the flowers to look like they have texture, while the surface itself is smooth. This is called implied texture. 

Artmaking Activity

Younger Student Artmaking Activity

Before the artmaking activity, introduce students to a computer drawing program such as Microsoft Paint. This can be done in collaboration with a technology teacher or during your own classroom time. It can be helpful to introduce the different tools and applications of the program prior to this lesson. Demonstrate how students can open and save the program, undo any errors they may create, and how to choose different paint colors. Once students have a general knowledge of the program you will be using, students can begin working on their final artwork.

To begin the artmaking activity, students will select a landscape as the base of their artwork. The landscape image should be a large-sized image. This can be found via an Internet search engine. It is helpful to search for backgrounds or desktop wallpaper images of landscapes to acquire a large-sized image. Students may need assistance uploading the image to a computer drawing program. With the image uploaded, students can begin using different tools on the program to draw directly over the elements of their landscape scene. Encourage students to mimic the lines or shapes that appear in their landscape. 

When finished, print out both the original image and the new, re-created landscape. These can be hung together to show the inspiration behind the implied texture artwork. In a wrap-up activity, students can compare and contrast both images while identifying the textures created.

Middle Grade Artmaking Activity 

To begin the artmaking activity, instruct students to find an image of a landscape that would fit a canvas board or thick painting surface. Once students have a printed image of their landscape, use a glue stick to glue the image to a canvas. Remind students that Kiefer’s artmaking process is similar to this lesson, but on a much larger scale. If matte medium is available, apply one coat of the medium over the painting. Allow for it to dry. This step will help reinforce the paper on the image.

Have students identify the various implied textures and landscape planes on their image. Students will begin building up actual texture on top of their landscape image. Students can apply thick globs of paint directly onto their image to begin building texture. Sand, when mixed with paint, can create grainy texture. Students can even glue crumpled pieces of tissue paper or straw onto their canvas. Once the added textures in their artwork have set and dried, students can paint directly on top of their textural landscape. Students can add additional layers of texture if they choose.

Older Student Artmaking Activity

Older students will use a meaningful photograph of a landscape for their painting. The photograph can be an actual image taken by the student of a real landscape or of an image that reminds students of a personal experience. Once students have their image, follow the steps outlined in the middle grade artmaking activity to create a textured landscape. 

Lesson Tips

  • This lesson can be tailored to focus on different subject areas or themes such as the seasons, plants, and social studies topics. Students can capture nature, plants, and geographical areas in a science-based landscape lesson. Students can also study the historical significance different land areas had on civilizations. They can create a landscape based on a battle or an ancient civilization, with the intent of depicting emotion or historical importance. 
  • Showing students video clips from YouTube of Anselm Kiefer working in his studio can illustrate the artmaking process and scale of the artwork.
  • If computer devices or programming are not readily accessible for younger grades, students can create a texture collage using various mixed media materials. Students can use crumpled up tissue paper, fabrics, straw, beads, sand, and more to create their own textured collage using their sense of touch.

Optional Reflections and Lesson Wrap Up

Reflecting on their landscapes, students can write an essay about the personal significance of their landscape. Students should write about where this landscape is from, why it is meaningful to them, and how they feel about the landscape. Students can share their essays and artworks with the class. For younger grades, students can write a paragraph describing the textures they have created. Encourage students to use a variety of adjectives to describe their landscapes.

New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum Standards

  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts: 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standards for Social Studies: 2, 3
  • New York State Learning Standards for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education: 5
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening: 1, 2, 3, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language: 1, 2, 3, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing: 2, 4
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading: 1, 2, 5, 6 

Teacher Examples

Painting of sunflowers in a field
Example of finished artwork based on lesson plan. Artwork by School Program Coordinator Kelly Macagnone.
Computer-generated artwork of sunflowers in a field
Example of finished artwork based on lesson plan. Artwork by School Program Coordinator Kelly Macagnone.


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