Warburg Renaissance Art Auction: Aby Warburg and Anselm Kiefer

The Anselm Kiefer painting Der Morgenthau-Plan (The Morgenthau Plan) is one of the donated artworks as part of the Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale on 4 March in support of the Warburg Renaissance.

On 1 March, we hosted online panel discussion, Word, Image and Memory: Aby Warburg and Anselm Kiefer, with Warburg Director Bill Sherman in conversation with two of the people who have worked most closely with Kiefer, Gagosian’s Richard Calvocoressi and Robin Vousden. Watch the event recording here. 

In this blog post, we caught up with Chair of the Warburg Charitable Trust, Christopher Rossbach, to find out more about the painting and its connection to the Institute.

Please could you tell us a bit about the Anselm Kiefer painting 'Der Morgenthau-Plan (The Morgenthau Plan)' and how it came to be donated as part of the charity auction?

Anselm Kiefer’s work has deep connections with the Warburgian idea of cultural memory. The Warburg Institute is one of the world’s leading centres for studying the interaction of ideas, images and society. It is dedicated to the survival and transmission of culture across time and space, with a special emphasis on the afterlife of antiquity.

As Gagosian has put at the inauguration of Kiefer’s major Morgenthau Plan installation in Paris in 2012, “Kiefer’s monumental archive of human memory gives overt material presence to a broad range of cultural myths and metaphors. Fusing art and literature, painting and sculpture, Kiefer engages the complex events of history and the ancestral epics of life, death, and the cosmos. He integrates, expands, and regenerates imagery and techniques, emphasizing the importance of the sacred and the spiritual. In Morgenthau Plan, Kiefer refers to the plan proposed in 1944 by United States Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., to transform Germany after World War II into a pre-industrial, agricultural state thereby limiting its ability to wage war. Morgenthau sought to divide Germany into two independent states, annexing or dismantling all German centers of industry. Although the Morgenthau Plan was never realized, it represented a potential alternative German history.”

The work donated by Anselm Kiefer was executed in 2021 and is a wonderful gesture of his support for the Warburg Institute, its history as an institution representing an unbroken link to the German-Jewish cultural tradition, the impact its scholars like Ernst Gombrich, the author of the Story of Art, the world’s bestselling book on art history, have had on shaping British and global art history, its current academic and scholarly achievements and its promise to continue to help shape the future of cultural memory.

Anselm Kiefer, 'der Morgenthau-Plan (The Morgenthau Plan)', 2021

Could you tell us more about the connection between the painting and the Warburg?

Erich (Eric) Warburg, 1936, The Warburg Institute

In addition to Anselm Kiefer’s intellectual and artistic connection, there is a fascinating historical link to the Warburg Institute through Eric Warburg, the nephew of Aby Warburg, and one of the people most responsible for the rescue of the Institute from Nazi Germany and its establishment in London. It was Eric Warburg who signed the 1944 trust deed with the University of London on behalf of the Warburg family, donating the library and establishing the Warburg Institute as it is today.

But Eric Warburg also had an important role in convincing the US to discontinue the Morgenthau plan and to rebuild German industry not to dismantle. During the Second World War Eric Warburg was an officer in the US army and close to John McCloy, one of the most senior US statesman and a key figure in American decision making about Germany during and after the war. Eric Warburg had met McCloy when both worked on Wall Street. As Max Warburg, Eric’s son, tells it, “after his friend John McCloy was appointed Germany’s first High Commissioner in August 1949, they had a memorable dinner during which John McCloy told him he thought the Allies should continue the dismantling program of German industries that had already begun. He told McCloy that it was absolutely necessary to rebuild Germany in order to create a reliable and strong ally. At the end of the dinner, John McCloy asked my father to draw up a list within 48 hours of those industries which should be spared from demolition. My father provided the list, and John McCloy subsequently put in great efforts to convince the US and the Allies that this was ultimately the right policy to pursue.”

This great resonance between the Warburg Institute, German, American, British and Jewish history, the Warburg family and its members like Aby Warburg and Eric Warburg, the Morgenthau plan, and the role it has played for Anselm Kiefer’s work, is testament to the importance of cultural memory and its relevance today.

Can you tell us a bit more about how the Warburg Charitable Trust supports the Warburg Institute?

The Warburg Charitable Trust is an independent UK registered charity that supports the Warburg Institute and the Warburg Renaissance, its architectural and intellectual transformation. Helped by our distinguished and dedicated group of Trustees and our supporters, we have put in place a number of great initiatives for the Institute. We are helping to raise the additional funds for the building project from important foundations and private donors. We have started a Friends of the Warburg circle that allows people who care about the Institute to become Friends and Muses, providing critical ongoing support for academic and cultural programs and collaborations. We also organize events and initiatives like the in person and online talks, the Visionary Circle and the Phillips x Warburg auction. We hope that many people will be inspired to become Friends of the Warburg and support the Institute and what it stands for.

What drew you to become the Chair of the Trust?

Growing up in a German and American, Jewish and Protestant family I have had a fascination for intellectual and art history. As a Humanities major at Yale I wrote my thesis about Goethe’s West East Divan and tracing its sources from the earliest telling of the stories to the 18th and 19th century translations of Arabic and Persian literature in Yale’s Beinecke Library. It is an important work of cultural influence and transmission that is Warburgian in many ways.

I feel strongly that Aby Warburg’s open and innovative approach to understanding images and ideas influence art and cultural, and how we should be open to new and serendipitous links and connections is as important for how our digital world today as it has been for the past. This approach is exemplified by Aby Warburg’s Bilderatlas of images of art, sculpture, architecture and many other things, or his library of books and images arranged by subjects, not by authors or titles, on open shelves and drawers that allow for analog and creative search.

In many ways we are all Warburgians. The Warburg Institute has a unique role to play in the understanding and discourse about art, ideas and culture. The fact that it has survived and is thriving in London today is due to the inspiration and support of its founder, directors and scholars, but also of many people who believe in the importance of art and culture. It is a privilege to be part of that tradition and to help to write the next chapters for the Institute.

In many ways we are all Warburgians. The Warburg Institute has a unique role to play in the understanding and discourse about art, ideas and culture. 

What do you love most about the Warburg?

The Warburg is an inspirational place because it is a place of the most fascinating and serendipitous discoveries that is held dear by so many scholars, writers, artists and others interested in art and culture. There is always something to discover, like Albert Einstein’s explanation of the ellipse he drew for Aby Warburg in the 1920s, the many different archives like the ‘The Image of the Black in Western Art’ or the Elizabeth David's rare book library,  one of the most important British cookbook authors of the 20th century.

The confluence of images and ideas at the Warburg is endless as is the knowledge and creativity of the people that make up its community. The new spaces will provide even greater opportunities for these exchanges and I greatly look forward to their opening in 2024.

How will this auction help to support the Warburg Institute?

Sketched view of the new digital exhibition space and entrances to the Lecture Room and the Library

The Warburg Renaissance is an opportunity to renew the Institute’s founding mission, academic strength and revolutionary approach to inform contemporary cultural, political and intellectual work, completing the vision and the building that houses it for new generations. The sales of the works so generously donated by some of the world’s leading artists will help to fund the completion of the renovation and expansion of the Institute’s home in Bloomsbury to create a more open and accessible building and welcome in and educate a wider audience with new and dynamic public spaces for lectures, exhibitions and digital experimentation. They will also provide funding for new programmes for exhibitions, residencies and commissions for contemporary artists, writers and thinkers.

The auction offers a unique opportunity to support the architectural and intellectual transformation of one of the world’s leading scholarly institutions and to shape the future of cultural memory.

> Watch the online panel discussion

> Find out more about the sale

> View the artworks


Christopher Rossbach is a Co-Founder, Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer of J. Stern & Co., a private investment partnership based in London and Zurich. Chris is also the portfolio manager of the Firm’s World Stars Global Equity Fund.   

Chris holds a BA from Yale University and a MBA from Harvard Business School. He is chair of the Warburg Charitable Trust of the Warburg Institute in London, member of the Investments Committee of the University of London and member of the Atlantik-Brücke, an association of German business and political leaders, in Berlin.