Gerhard Richter - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Coming to the auction market for the very first time, Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (774-1) is a visually arresting masterpiece that exquisitely exemplifies the artist’s technical and conceptual approach into abstraction. Spatial ambiguity, visual complexity, and tactile materiality all come into play in Abstraktes Bild (774-1), embodying the beauty of marrying spontaneity with orchestration.
    “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 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 painted his first abstract piece in 1976, and in the 1980s, started to use a squeegee in these paintings to introduce the element of chance. Abstraktes Bild was created in 1992, more than a decade since the artist first experimented in similar compositions, and right when he started implementing colour columns and monochrome tones into his oeuvre. With this particular piece, contrasting vertical lines are swept across the surface. The dynamic movement of strokes create a heightened sense of restlessness, highly gestural and energetic, forming a mesmerising depth of field through the overlapping pigments.



    Height of Abstraction


    The early 1990s is widely regarded as the height of Richter’s aesthetic inquiry into the nature of abstraction. During this time, Richter repeatedly returned to striped and gridded compositions, suggesting his extended exploration into unifying bright colours with a more muted palette. This is masterfully encapsulated in the present work via the visual interplay between layers of deep red and brighter hues of blues and greens.



    Installation view of the current work (left) with Abstraktes Bild (774-2) (right), which is on permanent loan to the Sprengel Museum, Hannover from the Hannover Rück Stiftung (Hannover Re Foundation) The artist’s studio, Cologne 
    Installation view of the current work (left) with Abstraktes Bild (774-2) (right), which is on permanent loan to the Sprengel Museum, Hannover from the Hannover Rück Stiftung (Hannover Re Foundation)
    The artist’s studio, Cologne 
    © 2022 Gerhard Richter (0229)


    Recalling rolling greenery and undulating mountain peaks, the current work debuted at his 1992 exhibition, Montagne with Associazione per l’Arte Contemporanea Zerynthia in Rome. One of only seven paintings made specifically for the 1992 exhibition, the present work exemplifies the purest articulation of Richter’s finest period of abstraction. Abstraktes Bild (774-1) is the only painting that is fresh to the market from the original exhibition. Its sister painting (see above) is on permanent loan to the Sprengel Museum, Hannover; other paintings in the show are either destroyed (774-3) or have been sold at auction.

    “Richter’s interest in this natural occurrence (distance, majestic, and in a certain sense already a ‘painting in itself’) has become a regular feature of his work since his 1981 series of Swiss mountain landscapes.”
    — Massimo Carboni, Review of Montagne in Artforum, 1992


    Created right after Richter’s breakthrough retrospective at London’s Tate Modern in the previous year, Abstraktes Bild (774-1) is representative of a climactic moment within the artist’s career where he garnered unprecedented critical acclaim. There is a domination of primary colours in Abstraktes Bild (774-1) that is reminiscent of bright skies, luscious meadows, and majestic mountainscapes – strokes of bright greens and soft blues melt into a background of deep garnet reds. These colours recall waves of trees and grass as they ripple to the current of the wind. The disconnected strokes of paint, the naturalistic colour scheme, and the reminiscence of sky and land are evocative of Paul Cézanne’s famous paintings of the Saint-Victoire mountains. The mountains of the exhibition’s title are also evoked by ‘the vertical stripes that punctuate the paintings’ surfaces, giving a sense of majesty, of severity, of indifference to what surrounds them’i.



    Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley, 1882-85
    Collection of the Metropilitan Museum of Art, New York
    Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929, 29.100.64


    However, as the nature of abstract paintings suggests, one can only interpret the theme of Richter’s work according to their own perception. As the artist himself outlines: ‘We only find paintings interesting because we search for something that looks familiar to us. [...] Basically, we always try to identify the relationship of the picture to some sort of appearance. It’s not about the recognition of a particular subject matter.’ii

    “Abstract pictures do indeed show something, they just show things that don’t exist. But they still follow the same requirements as figurative works: they need a setup, structure. You need to be able to look at it and say, ‘It’s almost something.’ But it’s actually representing nothing. It pulls feelings out of you, even as it’s showing you a scene that technically isn’t there.”
    — Gerhard Richter


    Richter focused almost solely on abstract paintings since the year 1990, and as a result, his work during this period skewed increasingly towards minimalist abstraction. They became more structural, with vertical and horizontal striations dominating the composition that counteracted the depth and flatness of the picture plane, as seen in Abstraktes Bild (774-1). Richter repeatedly returned to striped and gridded compositions, suggesting his exploration into unifying bright colours with the more muted, melancholy palette to which he was periodically drawn towards. In the current work, the foundational layer is executed in a deep red pigment, highly characteristic of Richter’s work from this period.



    Abstraktes Bild from 1992 in Museums

  • Spontaneous Orchestration

    “I’ve never found anything to be lacking in a blurry canvas. Quite the contrary: you can see many more things in it than in a sharply focused image.”
    — Gerhard Richter
    The Abstraktes Bild series celebrates Richter’s mastery of the squeegee technique, a creative method that is crucial in bringing Richter’s abstract paintings to life. Using a large, broad squeegee to scrape away layers of impasto, Richter blurs and mixes pigment in the process, partially concealing and partially revealing what was originally laid beneath. Colours, textures, and layers intermingle, coalescing into organic and beautiful ‘accidents’ that emerge from the canvas.



    Detail of the present lot
    Detail of the present lot


    Thick impasto is dragged across the canvas with a large squeegee, creating a depth of organised chaos. These lattices of vibrant primary colours crisscross and intermingle across each layer, creating a hypnotic, immersive viewing experience. By blurring the colours in Abstraktes Bild (774-1), Richter tantalises the viewer by creating an indecipherable mystery. He encourages the viewer to search for familiar forms, but at the same time denies a decisive answer, as he believes that this opens the painting up for interpretation.



    Left: Georges Seurat, Seascape (Gravelines), 1890
    Image: © National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon, 2012.89.8

    Right: Georges Seurat, Seascape at Port-en-Bessin, Normandy, 1888
    Image: © National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gift of the W. Averell Harriman Foundation in memory of Marie N. Harriman, 1972.9.21


    Here, Richter creates ambiguous representations of nature without ever solidifying them into actual silhouettes. This motivates the viewer to appreciate the piece for its materiality, as if one was gazing upon a piece of lavish textile. Sweeping and grazing across the canvas, these painstakingly administered layers of intense chromatic pigment incite an optical engagement akin to works by pointillist painter Georges Seurat and the idea of atmospheric espousal in colour theory. Rather than a subjective documentation of nature, Richter’s ostensibly objective and purely abstract works allow one to hone in on their visual senses and focus on the experience of seeing itself.

    “It is as if the very phenomena that occur in reality are not simply arranged ‘in front of’ us, but pass right through us, in a continuous, transforming flow of concrete presences and of mental projections. With these paintings, Richter is also referring to a type of philosophical or at least conceptual reflection which deals with the meaning of vision, of the very act of seeing, with the optical relationship that we establish with the outer world.”
    — Massimo Carboni, Review of Montagne in Artforum, 1992

    The multiple layers, directions of movement, and differences in thickness of paint, are all decided by Richter himself; yet he allowed these elements to interact freely, which perfectly encapsulates the essence of organic chance in nature. As a result, Abstraktes Bild (774-1) is the perfect balance between both subjectivity and objectivity, accidental and planned. Although dependent on chance and spontaneity, this process of painting was carefully developed: ‘…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.’iii




    Collector’s Digest


    Born in Dresden in 1932, Gerhard Richter came of age in a rapidly shifting political and cultural landscape, first joining the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1951 and later enrolling at the Dusseldorf Academy in 1961 alongside Sigmar Polke. Spanning almost six decades, Richter’s oeuvre continues to explore the relationships between colour and form, abstraction and representation, and remains a paragon of the genre in art history.
    The 1990s – when the current work was painted – marked many professional milestones for the artist. He received the Wolf Prize in Arts, Jerusalem in 1995; the Golden Lion at the 47th Venice Biennale and the Praemium Imperiale, Tokyo in 1997, and exhibited Atlas at documenta X, Kassel in the same year. In 1998, Richter was awarded a number of prizes including the Wexner Prize, a Foreign Honorary Membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Staatspreis des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen.
    Having just celebrated his 90th birthday on 9 February 2022, the artist’s work will be celebrated across three exhibitions in his native Germany, including a show in Richter’s hometown of Dresden. Curated by the artist himself, this intimate and personal show includes his last oil painting, and will coincide with the publication of the artist’s final catalogue raisonné.



    i Massimo Carboni, 'Gerhard Richter: Zerynthia, Associazione per l'Arte Contemporanea', Artforum, vol. 31, no. 7, March 1993, online

    ii Gerhard Richter, quoted in Robert Storr, ‘Interview with Gerhard Richter’, Forty Years of Painting, New York, 2003, p. 304
    iii Gerhard Richter, quoted in Gerhard Richter, Elgar Dietmar, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gerhard Richter - Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London, 2009, p.256

    • Provenance

      Mario Pieroni Gallery, Rome (acquired directly from the artist)
      Private Collection, Germany
      Schönewald Fine Arts, Xanten
      Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
      Private Collection, Brussels
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Rome, Associazione per l’Arte Contemporanea Zerynthia, Gerhard Richter: Montagne, 3 October - 6 December 1992, p. 25 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter: Werkubersicht/Catalogue Raissone 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, no. 774-1 (illustrated)
      Emanuele Garbin, Il bordo del mondo: la forma della sguardo nella pittura di Gerhard Richter, Venice, 2011, p. 154
      Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 4: Nos. 652-1-805-6 (1988-1994), Ostfildern, 2015, no. 774-1, p. 483 (illustrated in the artist's studio, p. 482)

    • 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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Abstraktes Bild (774-1)

signed, numbered and dated '774-1 RICHTER 1992' on the reverse
oil on canvas
200 x 180.3 cm. (78 3/4 x 70 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1992.

Full Cataloguing

HK$80,000,000 - 120,000,000 

Sold for HK$89,375,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022