Signed and dated "Richter 65" on reverse; further signed and dated "5.9.66 G. Richter" along the overlap.
$6,000,000 - 8,000,000
Sold for $8,005,000
MORE LOT DETAILS
Provenance Private Collection, Germany Private Collection, Europe Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, May 12, 2004, lot 35 Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Literature D. Honisch, et. al., Gerhard Richter 36 Biennale di Venezia, German Pavilion, Essen: Museum Folkwang, 1972, p. 38 J. Harten, ed., Gerhard Richter: Bilder Paintings 1962-1985, Cologne: DuMont, 1986, cat. no. 111, pp. 46, 364 (illustrated) A. Thill, et. al., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. III, Osfildern Ruit 1993, cat. no. 111 (illustrated) D. Elger, Gerhard Richter. Maler, Cologne: DuMont, 2002, p. 164
"In the photograph, I take even more focus out of the painted image, which is already a bit out of focus, and make the picture even smoother. I also subtract the materiality, the surface of the painting, and it becomes something different.”
GERHARD RICHTER, 2004
Mädchen im Sessel (Lila) is one of the most dramatic and deliberately enigmatic works Gerhard Richter executed throughout one of the most fertile periods of his ongoing and illustrious career. Drawn from photographic sources that Richter constructed with meticulous and mock-mechanical care and precision, collectively these paintings are a singular reaction against the illusion of figurative representation. This reaction would ultimately inform Richter’s own unique and profound investigation of the nature and qualities of painting as “model” of reality or bearer of truth.
One of Richter’s ambitions in simulating photography in his work was to claim for painting the same sense of authority, authenticity, and objectivity with regard to “pictorial truth” or realism” that lies implicit within a photograph. Although a photograph hardly provides a veritable picture of reality, it does have unique and fascinating pictorial attributes of its own – qualities that Richter believed could benefit the very different nature of his own chosen, and more plastic, medium of painting. “I was able to see…[the photograph]…as a picture which conveyed a different aspect to me, without all those conventional criteria which I formerly attached to art. There was no style, no composition, no judgment. It liberated me from personal experience. There was nothing but a pure picture.” (G. Richter, “Interview with Rolf Schön,” XXXVI Biennale Internazionale dell’Arte, Venice, 1972, exh. cat., Folkwang Museum Essen, p. 23)
Mädchen im Sessel (Lila) is remarkably one of only nine of the artist’s photo-realist images which are composed with only various gradations of a single color, in this case violet (an even more remarkable rarity as it is the only singularly purple painting in the artist’s oeuvre.) Typically, these works were executed in grayscale in much the same way as Richter would have found them in his source material. Breaking away from this stricter, literally black and white interpretation, the artist further stretches what it means for a work to be a painting versus a photograph, or how “veritable” a photograph may be assumed to be. Further, the swirls of lilac, heliotrope, mauve and all those in between create a vibrant abstraction of color which nearly subsumes the imagery within the picture. Having been associated with everything from Roman emperors, to Catholic bishops, the lush paintings of Richter’s Teutonic predecessor, Gustav Klimt, and psychedelic experiences, purple is an incredibly loaded color rich in history and connotation. That the present lot was painted in 1966, the same year he would begin work on his Color Charts, is highly indicative of how Richter was looking west to his American and British contemporaries and pop culture which were already beginning to assume the mantle of the Flower Power hippies and swinging London mods respectively.
First defined in the April 15, 1966 edition of Time magazine, “Swinging London” embodied a youth-oriented cultural phenomenon that emphasized the new and modern. Manifesting itself in television, film, fashion, art and music, the period was characterized by a rejection of the staid ways of post-war austerity and a hedonistic celebration of contemporary British life. Fashion models such as Peggy Moffitt and Twiggy came to embody the late “mod” look which espoused high-keyed color coupled with space age silhouettes while psychedelic rock music exploded on the scene, aurally mirroring those same vibrant chromatics and dramatic cuts of the current fashion trends. Indeed, the aggressive banged haircut that Vidal Sassoon popularized via Moffitt can be seen here in Richter’s own model whose eyes are just barely discernible beneath her hair. Similarly, American youth were beginning to expand their horizons and acceptance of what was socially acceptable and hip in response and revulsion to the uptight mores of the 1950s. Andy Warhol and his Factory had already established themselves as the cultural arbiters of New York cool while bands such as the Beach Boys and Grateful Dead embodied the laid-back freewheeling spirit of the West Coast. In a particular way, Richter’s photo-realist paintings function as a distant cousin to Warhol’s silkscreens. Warhol aimed for mechanized reproduction of a photographic source whereas Richter intended to expose the artificial nature of the photograph through the imposition of the artist’s hand. Despite originally reproducing the female form true its physical reality and the reality constructed within the original picture frame, Richter has banished all sense of corporeal veracity in his allover blurring of the canvas, and the composition therein.
Dating from the highpoint of Gerhard Richter's Pop period, Mädchen im Sessel (Lila) from 1966 perfectly demonstrates the distance between the German movement of that name and its American sister scene. While the source image speaks of leisure and luxury, it has been reproduced in oils with a deliberate blurring dimension, as though seen through a filter that is scrambling the visual information. Somehow, the drained palette and vaguely insubstantial figure and chair bleed into each other creating a layer of abstraction, a disruption of the original pictorial information. There is none of the garish, bright and exuberant palette of the pictures of Richter's American contemporaries such as Lichtenstein, Oldenburg and Robert Indiana. Whereas they absorbed the positivity and confidence of post-war America, Richter was observing the piecemeal reconstruction of a Europe ravaged by a war, and a Germany divided in its aftermath. Instead, there is a subdued and subversive atmosphere, emphasized by the deliberate avoidance of chromatic differentiation akin to Andy Warhol’s single color silkscreen series such as the Death and Disaster and Electric Chair series.
Yet faux-mechanical nature of Richter’s blurring was something that he derived from his American counterparts such as Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and Warhol. In particular, it was these artists’ reintroduction of figuration—often a singular and unremarkable object or figure—along with their apparently artless embrace of the mechanical techniques of reproduction used in industry and commerce that most impressed Richter. “One can paint a nude again, nothing to worry about,” he noted at the time, “however it has be very different, and totally unartistic.” (G. Richter, “Letter to Helmut and Erika Heinze, March 10, 1963,” in Gerhard Richter, Images of an Era, exh. cat., Hamburg, 2011, p. 60)
The pervasive sense of shallow surface, of façade, and of masquerade running throughout the ambiguous and seemingly dissolving imagery of Richter’s photo-paintings is one that reflects both his and the Pop art generations’ skeptical fascination with the surface and superficiality of much of modern Western industrialized culture. As he himself has commented, his upbringing in the German Democratic Republic made him acutely aware of this cultural disposition to the west. “Growing up in the (Socialist) system was…a valuable education for me. There one developed wholly different qualities, ways of thinking, friendships. Here in the West, everything struck me as insanely superficial. And it was.” (G. Richter in conversation with U.M. Schneede in Gerhard Richter Images of an Era, exh. cat., Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg, 2011, p. 106)
This particular work also belongs to a series of paintings whose genesis is an ongoing project of Richter’s, Atlas, which officially began to take shape in 1969 and into the early 1970’s, but whose first components can be traced back to 1962. Atlas is an archive on a monumental scale in which the artist compiles and assembles various imagery culled from newspaper and magazine clippings to other found and original photographs. These images have served as source material in a variety of manners throughout his practice including as direct subject matter, as installation, and as components of artist’s books, among others. Most notably, a number of the artist’s earliest photo-realist paintings of the mid 1960’s, of which Mädchen im Sessel (Lila) is a seminal example, are derived from these images. Having originally begun the project in a much more informal manner, he ultimately began to assemble them into self-contained sheets. To date, there are over 800 sheets comprising the entire series which is widely considered an independent artwork due to its diversity, complexity and importance within his oeuvre. According to the artist, “In the beginning I tried to accommodate everything there that was somewhere between art and garbage and that somehow seemed important to me and a pity to throw away.” (G. Richter, “Interview with Dieter Schwarz,” in D. Elger and H.-U. Obrist (ed.s), Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, London: Thames & Hudson, 2009, p. 332)
According to Richter, “As far as the surface is concerned – oil on canvas conventionally applied – my pictures have little to do with the original photograph. They are totally painting (whatever that may mean.) On the other hand, they are so like the photograph that the thing that distinguished the photo from all other images remains intact.” (G. Richter quoted in H.-U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, trans. D. Britt, London, 1995, p. 34) It is this distinction between painting and photography that is methodically taken to an extreme in Mädchen im Sessel (Lila) through the near mechanical dissolution of the painting’s image into the surface of the work itself. Sweeping across the surface of the painting with a large dry brush while the paint was still wet, Richter has seemingly fused all the separate component parts of the picture’s image into one another and collectively subsumed them into a dynamic but uniform and flat abstract surface. Operating in a consistent, horizontal and faux-mechanical way, the image appears to emerge from the surface of the picture and through the myriad lines of purples and whites as if by magic. Like a latent image in a developing bath, Mädchen im Sessel (Lila) materializes from the wash of color, slowly coming further and further into focus before the viewer. Here, figuration and abstraction of the kind that would subsequently distinguish Richter’s later work in the 1980s are merged together at the microscopic level on the surface of the canvas.
The fact that Richter is a technically masterful and nuanced painter is evidenced in the strange, swirling abstraction that fills Mädchen im Sessel (Lila). The female form and the armchair in which she rests seem to melt into each other – her arms, legs, and torso become one with the armrests of the chair and its main body. This is made all the more true by the use of different tones of lilac to render the entire scene. Richter hereby introduces a strange pictorial ambiguity that melds figure and ground, evincing the fact that this is a painting, not a photograph. Indeed, paint itself can never be “blurred” only an image can be. The photograph itself, “has an abstraction of its own, which is not easy to see through. It’s what everyone believes nowadays: it’s ‘normal’…It is the only picture that tells the truth, because it sees ‘objectively.’ It usually gets believed, even where it is technically faulty and the content is barely identifiable.” (G. Richter, “Notes 1964-65,” in H.-U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, trans. D. Britt, London, 1995, p. 31)
Mädchen im Sessel (Lila) is a very specific type of picture in which meaning has been disintegrated. Richter describes, “All that interests me is the grey areas, the passages and tonal sequences, the pictorial spaces, overlaps and interlockings. If I had any way of abandoning the object as the bearer of this structure, I would immediately start painting abstracts.” (G. Richter quoted in H.-U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, trans. D. Britt, London, 1995, p. 37) (This transition to pure abstraction would of course later come to pass in his celebrated Abstraktes Bild series.) Richter has kept representative “realism” at a deliberate interval, a distance designed to complicate the source image and to reveal something new, to prompt the viewer to look in a more formal and analytical manner at a newspaper image that would otherwise have been discarded after a day. This disposable image has been granted immortality and fame, has smuggled itself into the realm of beauty. The sitter remains anonymous and elusive, a strangely abstracted fragment of an intensely figurative reality.
Richter began to paint ever more contentious and provocative imagery at this time, taking the apparent distance and objectivity of his photo-paintings along with the seemingly banal imagery to ever greater extremes as a way of testing the ability of his medium to maintain its ambiguity. Mädchen im Sessel (Lila) is the beginning of these boundary-testing pictures. Imbedded in these works and this image is an unsettling sense of the seen and unseen German histories that clearly lay within the conscious and conscience of Richter and his contemporaries. Throughout his career, Richter has explored what and how one sees and understands physical and pictorial reality. “Life communicates itself to us through convention and through the parlour games and laws of social life. Photographs are ephemeral images of this communication—as are the pictures that I paint from photographs. Being painted, they no longer tell of a specific situation and there representation becomes absurd. As a painting it changes both its meaning and its information content.” (G. Richter quoted in H.-U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, trans. D. Britt, London, 1995, p. 31) In Mädchen im Sessel, Richter has brilliantly invested a commonplace but highly evocative (and potentially provocative) image with so many layers of ambiguity that the viewer is encouraged to read into it as he or she pleases. Simultaneously, and disconcertingly, the work asserts in its surfeit of particular details that it is merely artifice, oil on canvas, a painting of a photograph of an anonymous and sultry sitter who begs the viewer to ask but one more question.