Joseph Beuys

Angel Whale (1953)

About this artwork

Beuys's depictions of fish and sea creatures are an extension of his lifelong interest in animals. In combining angel and whale, he brings together the heavens and the depth of the sea: an intangible spirit crossed with an enormous mammal. Beuys often turned animals into gods. He wrote: "Animals are in reality also angelic beings. They speak of a realm above human beings, of a spiritual dimension, contained within people themselves". Although the hook shape suggests physical danger for the whale, it may also refer to the ancient tribal custom of attaching fish hooks to the mouth and nostrils of a dead person in order to catch the soul as it escapes from the body.

see media
  • title: Angel Whale
  • accession number: AR00099
  • artist: Joseph BeuysGerman (1921 - 1986)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Work on paper
  • medium: Embossed paper in frame
  • date created: 1953
  • measurements: 30.30 x 37.50 cm
  • credit line: ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
  • copyright: © DACS 2016.
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve
This artwork is part of Artist Rooms

Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys

German artist Beuys believed that art was integral to everyday life. His own art was shaped by an experience early in his life. As a Luftwaffe pilot during the war, Beuys was shot down over the Crimea and was saved by nomadic Tartars. Barely alive, he was wrapped in felt and fat which preserved his body heat, and taken to safety on sledges pulled by dogs. This incident, and these particular elements, informed much of his art, which has a redemptive, mystical and ritualistic character. Central to his work were his 'Actions', which involved teaching, audience discussion and performance. The recurrent themes were social and political. Associated with the ecological movement - he was a founder member of the Green Party - he also had a strong influence on German politics.