Gerhard Richter - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • Introduction


    A resplendent symphony of painterly dynamism and chromatic brilliance, Gerhard Richter’s Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) is an incandescent, electrifying masterpiece hailing from a critical moment of aesthetic and conceptual transition in the German master’s inimitable career. Painted in 1984, Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) is not only an exemplary specimen of Richter’s early abstract works, but also a singularly important painting that in title and visual association refer back to the artist’s iconic body of Kerzen (Candles) paintings from 1982‐1983.


    Longitudinally bisected down the centre, the present abstract composition presents a crisp duality that echoes the earlier still life works featuring two candles, while its abstract planes of colour vividly communicate the dynamic and poignant evanescence of flame and light. Utterly radical and captivating, Richter’s early abstracts scaled new heights of innovation and plumbed formidable depths of conceptual rigour.


    A large number of abstract paintings executed between 1984 and 1986 are held in public museums and prominent private collections, while works from this period follow a slew of solo exhibitions at prestigious institutions, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1977); the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1979); and the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (1978, 1980). Created during this important, highly productive and pivotal moment in Richter’s career, the present Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) stridently affirms its creator’s visionary genius as one of the most important artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.






    Left: Gerhard Richter, Two Candles, 1982 

    Right: Claude Monet, Haystack, End of Summer, Morning, 1891 

    Collection of the Louvre, Paris


    “The Abstract Pictures are no less arbitrary than all object-bound representations … The only difference is that in these the ‘motif’ evolves only during the process of painting. So they imply that I do not know what I want to represent, or how to begin.” 
    — Gerhard Richter

    Throughout his career, like no other artist before or after him, Richter tirelessly investigated the phenomena of vision and painterly representation, and the conceptual meaning and experiential reception of painting. After two decades as a skilled photorealist painter operating at the highest levels of technical accomplishment, Richter embarked on a new chapter that represented a stunning departure from the exacting realism of his still lifes, Photo Paintings, and landscapes. Deploying colour, texture, and chance, Richter engendered a mode of purely self‐referential language of abstraction by applying his tremendous skill as a photorealist painter to the frontiers of abstraction.




     Barnett Newman, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV, 1969‐79 
    Collection Nationalgalerie, Berlin. © 2021 Barnett Newman Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    A work of supreme grace and tantalising complexity, Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) is spectacular in its display of riveting interplay of colour. A blue Barnett Newman‐esque axis divides the composition into two halves, each of which reveal gestural vistas of texture, depth, and movement. Translucent swathes of yellow and red transmit transcendent white glows at the top left, while narrow claw‐like latitudinal branches imbue assertive rhythm at the top right.


    Horizontal squeegeed forms traverse the lower half of the canvas, with the stuttering fragmented yellow pigment at the lower left revealing deep green, red, and blue depths of underpainting that contrast beautifully with the relatively tranquil expanses of yellow tracks on the right. Richter discovered the squeegee in 1979 but only began using it as his sole painting tool in 1986; accordingly, Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) from 1984 reveals a plethora of painterly techniques, encompassing squeegee, brush, and blade. Richter’s repeated process of accretions and excavations result in diaphanous sheens, staccato crests and ridges, mesmerising underlayers and punctuating peaks of impasto, articulating radiant fields of effervescent colour and hypnotic depths.



    Detail of the present work


    “I partly destroy it, partly add to it; and so it goes on at intervals, till there is nothing more to do and the picture is finished. By then it is a something which I understand in the same way it confronts me, as both incomprehensible and self-sufficient… It is a highly planned kind of spontaneity.” 
    — Gerhard Richter

    Richter’s submission to chance and his open embrace of the arbitrary is key to his monumental corpus of abstract paintings. He explains: 'This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture. Each picture has to evolve out of a painterly or visual logic: It has to emerge as if inevitably. And by not planning the outcome, I hope to achieve the same coherence and objectivity that a random slice of nature (or a readymade) always possesses. Of course, this is also a method of bringing in unconscious processes, as far as possible. I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things that I can think out for myself.'i



    Mark Rothko, No. 5/No. 22, 1950 

    Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
    © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    While Richter’s exuberant strata of colour and corporeal gestures echoes the work of his Abstract Expressionist predecessors, Richter’s artistic project is unprecedented. He sought not mere spontaneous expression, but a way to spontaneously yet deliberately generate a previously undetermined yet specific image. In Richter’s own words: 'The Abstract Expressionists were amazed at the pictorial quality of their productions, the wonderful world that opens up when you just paint… But the problem is this: not to generate any old thing with all the rightness and spontaneity of Nature, but to produce highly specific pictures with highly specific messages.'ii Richter sought a means of 'letting a thing come, rather than creating it; no assumptions, constructions, preparation, invention, ideologies – to come closer to the actual, richer, more lifelike, to that which is beyond my comprehension.'iii 


    “Pollock, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, their heroism derived from the climate of their time, but we do not have this climate.” 
    — Gerhard Richter

    Exquisitely spectacular and sublimely enveloping, Richter’s breath‐taking abstract works constitute an elegant rebuttal against the idealism of 1950s abstraction. His physical erasures of his own artistic gestures can be read as a bold negation of the sacred image space. By transforming his pictorial field into a battlefield against his own mark, Richter is interrogating the meaning and position of painting within the contemporary age; specifically, the crisis of painting within the photographic and televisual age. His incessant erasure and blurring of forms are reminiscent of Cibachrome print, while the hazy out‐of‐focus consistency evokes the mark of televisual opticality. Richter’s project is thus painting’s post‐conceptual answer to figuration’s redundancy in the face of photography and the televisual age as well as to the ‘inflated subjectivism, idealism, and existential weightlessness' of Modernist abstraction.iv





    J.M.W. Turner, Slavers, Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, 1840 

    Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 


    Simultaneously majestic and cataclysmic, Richter’s destructive erasures generates a postphotographic re‐constitution of the image – one that returns us, paradoxically, to forms associated with nature. As each composition gradually takes shape, the spontaneous sheens and organic variegations of colour and texture evoke visions such as rain streaming against a window, swirling patterns of soil, or, as in the present work, the flickering blaze of candlelight. Whereas Richter’s 1982‐1983 Kerzen (Candles) meditated on the image of candles and their poignant meanings, the present Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) encapsulates the very movement, impermanence, and unpredictability of light itself. By consciously succumbing to the mercuriality of paint, Richter’s process‐driven methodology inserts him into the production of an unknowable reality, imbuing his works – and his viewers – in a metaphysical dimension. 

    In its consummate orchestration of colour, movement, light, and texture, Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) is sensationally spellbinding in its dynamic juxtaposition of luminescent hues, pearlescent layering, as well as decisive gestural mark‐making. As an early archetype of Richter’s definitive contribution to the abstract canon, Kerzenschein (Candle‐light) traces the artist’s revolutionary journey from photorealist exactitude to abstract splendour. Standing before the work, viewers experience a brilliant encapsulation of the artist’s unequalled artistic accomplishments and unyielding intellect, bathed in the glow of his genius.



    Detail of the present work 


    i Gerhard Richter in conversation with Sabine Schütz, Gerhard Richter: Text, Writings, Interview and Letters 1961‐2007, London 2009, p. 256

    ii Gerhard Richter, 'Notes, 1985', in The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings 1962‐1993, Cambridge, 1995, p. 122
    iii Peter Moritz Pickhaus, 'Gerhard Richter. Abstrakte Bilder 1976‐1981',  Kunstforum International, April/May 1982, p. 250
    iv Peter Osborne, ‘Painting Negation: Gerhard Richter’s Negatives’, October, vol. 62, Autumn, 1992, p. 104

    • Provenance

      Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, San Francisco
      Private Collection, USA
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Marian Goodman Gallery and Sperone Westwater Gallery, Gerhard Richter, 5 March – 30 March 1985

    • Literature

      Gerhard Richter: Bilder/Paintings 1962-1985, exh. cat., Stadtische Kunsthalle Dusseldorf, 1986, no. 554/3, pp. 304, 399 (illustrated)
      Gerhard Richter. Werkubersicht / Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, exh. cat., Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, vol. 111, no. 554-3, n.p. (illustrated)
      Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 3: Nos. 389-651-2 (1976-1987), Ostfildern, 2013, no. 554-3, p. 405 (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 an Important Private Collection


Kerzenschein (Candle-light)

signed, numbered and dated '554-3 Richter 1984' on the reverse
oil on canvas
200.3 x 179.7 cm. (78 7/8 x 70 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1984.

Full Cataloguing

HK$55,000,000 - 75,000,000 

Sold for HK$101,970,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

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

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021