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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Dieter Roth, Swiss (Hanover, Germany 1930 - 1998 Basel, Switzerland)
Chocolate Lion (Self-Portrait as a Lion)
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Schokoladenlöwe, Selbstportrait als Löwe
Work Type
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Marbled chocolate
24 x 18 x 15 cm (9 7/16 x 7 1/16 x 5 7/8 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Private Collector, North Rhine Westphalia, Auction, Germany, 1990, 2001.
Galerie Marion u. Roswitha Fricke, Düsseldorf, Germany, 2001, 2001.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Purchase in memory of Eda K. Loeb
© Dieter Roth Estate / Hauser & Wirth
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Dieter Roth (1930-1998) was a Swiss-German sculptor, poet, graphic designer, performer, publisher, musician, and most of all, provocateur. His interest in ephemeral materials and experimentation with different kinds of food (chocolate, dough, candy, bread) began in the mid 1960s. Attempting to visualize the dimension of time, Roth wanted his works to have a life of their own. The objects were and are literally still changing (decaying) after they were "finished," and the entrance of other life forms – such as insects and bacteria – allowed for the continuation of life in art. Roth was also interested in the factor of chance in art making. The work could not be fully controlled by the artist, but developed according to the conditions in which it was kept. Temperature, humidity, light, and the presence of other insect or bacterial life form continue to alter the object.

The "Chocolate Lion", 1971 was planned in an edition of 210 in dark, white, and marbled chocolate. But, according to the artist, he produced less than 100 between 1969-1971 (Dobke, no. 1969.13). This object, also known as "Self-portrait as a Lion", reveals the artist's wit – and even nose-thumbing – as its construction from a material is so opposite in stability from that of the traditional sculpted portrait in bronze. As such, it remains closer to a true "portrait" of the artist as a human body that lives, changes and dies. In terms of representation even, the "Chocolate Lion" counteracts the traditional, stern painted self-portrait, for example, of Max Beckmann's canonical "Self-portrait in Tuxedo", 1927. Furthermore, the "lion" Roth presents to the viewer looks more like a very unthreatening dog.

Chocolate is also culturally connoted with positive feelings: it is sweet, gratifying, and connected often times to childhood rewards and memories. By working in such a material, Roth creates a sort of sugary bridge to the museum audience, yet not to the museum as an institution itself. Chocolate, for example, is much more connected with the everyday lives and experiences of the viewer than is cast bronze or copper. In short, Roth plays with the dichotomy of audience and institution by varying the artistic elements of material and form. For Roth, food was a vehicle for concepts and critique of the art world itself – change and growth are seen in opposition to the institutionalization of ideas and art.

Exhibition History

  • Eat Art: Joseph Beuys, Dieter Roth, Sonja Alhäuser, Harvard University Art Museums, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 10/04/2001 - 12/16/2001
  • 32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/27/2022 - 01/01/2023

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