Gerhard Richter - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Thursday, December 3, 2020 | Phillips
  • Introduction


    Internationally renowned as one of the world’s most famous living artists, Gerhard Richter’s career stretches over six decades, and his oeuvre is prolific in its experiments with photo-based painting, photography and abstraction. Born in 1932 in Dresden, Germany, Richter lived in East Germany under Soviet rule, before fleeing to West Germany in 1961 where he enrolled in the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf. His approach to painting changed as a result of this move, once painting in the Social Realist style, his new-found freedom to engage with the ideas of Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel, Neo-Dada and Fluxus, led to his involvement in the Capitalist realism, or German Pop art movement in the early 1960s. Interested in the notions of objectivity and subjectivity in painting, Richter worked from photographs, becoming renowned for his signature photographic blur. His questioning of the limits of representation and his yearning for a new way of painting that was not constricting, resulted in his earnest experimentation with abstraction in the 1970s, culminating in his sublime abstract works, such as this Abstraktes Bild (682-4) (1988). 


    Collaborating with chance

    "Not only condoning but soliciting accident, Richter attends to the multifarious effects of layered paint that has been repeatedly smashed and dragged, wet-in-wet." —Peter Schjeldahl 

    Gerhard Richter in his studio, using a squeegee on canvas in 2009.

    Although Richter never gave up his figurative work, the artist began investigating chromatic abstraction in the 1970s, a practice which continually evolved over the course of his career, so that a once gestural mode of applying paint was replaced with squeegees and spatulas by the late 1980s, and scraping by the 1990s. Richter plays with the notions of intent versus accident in his abstract work, with chance serving a major determining role in the outcome of the paintings. Indeed, Richter ‘solicits accident’ in a way that recalls the work of Jackson Pollock, who, ‘dripping paint, collaborated with chance and monitored the results’ i


    To do this, Richter drags a paint-covered squeegee, a long strip of plastic, across the surface of the canvas, leaving behind thin layers of pigment that are successively built upon. This creates impasto overlays, thickly applied oil paint that is blotchy in its appearance, causing the artist and critic, Robert Storr, to describe these pictorial structures as ‘geological’ ii. The artist is not in control of the outcome of these layers applied with a squeegee, which ‘frees him from the necessity of a conscious design or composition and allows something unpredictable to result, something that goes beyond his own horizon of expectations’ ii. Richter, in an interview with Sabine Schütz, spoke about the evolution of his ‘method of working with randomness, chance, sudden inspiration, and destruction’, allowing him to ‘obtain in the end a picture which [he] has not planned at all’ iii.


    Close up of the ‘geological’ effect created by successive layers of oil paint in the present painting, applied with a squeegee

    "I want to end up with a picture that I haven’t planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture…I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." —Gerhard Richter  

    A captivating cosmos of colour


    Abstraktes Bild (682-4)’s dramatic trails of explosive red, luminous green and darker blues and greys create a striking, iridescent image which has an intense sense of depth that is utterly captivating. The red is electric, absorbing the viewer in the cosmos of its shimmering mottling of paint. Richter uses contrasting colours to create the visual illusion that the bright red belongs to the foreground, while the colder blues and greys dwell in the back. 


    Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952, Collection of Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
    Josef Albers, Orange, Pink against Crimson, dark Gray, 1947 © 2020 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

    This is not unlike the work of Pollock, especially his Convergence (1952), where the bright orange, yellow and white dripped paint leap out at the viewer, contrasting with the black which appears to reside in the depths of the canvas. Josef Albers has also explored this spatial effect in his colour theories, with his Orange, Pink against Crimson, dark Gray (1947), for example, interrogating both the illusion of transparency and the perception of depth. The sequence of the application of paint does not necessarily correspond to appearance of what layers exist in the background or at the front of the pictorial plane. As stated by Hubertus Butin, ‘an illusory pictorial space is created that permits contradictory experiences’ ii. This consolidates the impression that these sublime works of abstraction ‘come into being through a will of their own, happening to—rather than issuing from—their creator’i


    Collector’s Digest

    Richter is one of the most sought after contemporary artists in the world, and his work has continued to break auction records, with his Abstraktes Bild (599) (1986), one of his first squeegee paintings, selling for USD$ 46.3 million in 2015, making it the highest sold painting by a living European artist. Richter has been the subject of major retrospectives, including his first North American retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 1988. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, exhibited a retrospective titled, Forty Years of Painting in 2001, and most recently, Richter has been the subject of the solo exhibition, Painting After All in March 2020, hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the Breuer building in New York, testament to his enduring success and influence on contemporary art.


    i Peter Schjeldahl, ‘The Dark Revelations of Gerhard Richter’, The New Yorker, March 16, 2020, online.

    ii Hubertus Butin, Stefan Gronert and Thomas Olbricht (eds.), Gerhard Richter; Editions 1965-2013: Catalogue Raisonnée, Ostfildern, 2014, p. 44.

    iii Gerhard Richter quoted in Gerhard Richter and Sabine Schütz, ‘Gerhard Richter (interview)’, Journal of Contemporary Art, New York, Fall/Winter 1990, p. 35, as found in Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter; Catalogue Raisonnée, vol. 4: 1988-1994, Ostfildern, 2015, p. 22.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Jean Bernier, Athens
      Farideh Cadot Gallery, New York
      Private Collection
      Sotheby's, London, 7 February 2003, lot 182
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      Private Collection
      Phillips, London, 29 June 2017, lot 8
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 4: 1988-1994, Ostfildern, 2015, no. 682-4, p. 192 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Gerhard Richter

      German • 1932

      Powerhouse painter Gerhard Richter has been a key player in defining the formal and ideological agenda for painting in contemporary art. His instantaneously recognizable canvases literally and figuratively blur the lines of representation and abstraction. Uninterested in classification, Richter skates between unorthodoxy and realism, much to the delight of institutions and the market alike. 

      Richter's color palette of potent hues is all substance and "no style," in the artist's own words. From career start in 1962, Richter developed both his photorealist and abstracted languages side-by-side, producing voraciously and evolving his artistic style in short intervals. Richter's illusory paintings find themselves on the walls of the world's most revered museums—for instance, London’s Tate Modern displays the Cage (1) – (6), 2006 paintings that were named after experimental composer John Cage and that inspired the balletic 'Rambert Event' hosted by Phillips Berkeley Square in 2016. 

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Property from a Distinguished European Collection


Abstraktes Bild (682-4)

signed, numbered and dated '682-4 Richter 1988' on the reverse; further numbered '682-4' on the stretcher
oil on canvas
72.5 x 62.2 cm. (28 1/2 x 24 1/2 in.)
Executed in 1988.

Full Cataloguing

HK$20,000,000 - 30,000,000 

Sold for HK$32,315,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 3 December 2020