Gerhard Richter - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, October 6, 2023 | Phillips
  • “With abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can neither be seen nor understood.”
    — Gerhard Richter

    Technically brilliant and hailed as one of the greatest living artists in the 21st century, Gerhard Richter has remained a key figure in the redefinition of painting by blurring the lines between figuration and representation. Already well renowned for his photorealistic paintings and attention to detail, Richter began experimenting with abstraction in the 1970s and created the first Abstraktes Bild work in 1976. Painted just 4 years after the first in the series, Abstraktes Bild (456-2) is a relatively early example of Richter’s non-representational works. More importantly, the present piece immediately follows the artist’s first ever squeegee work, namely Abstraktes Bild 456-1 i, marking it as important and representational within Richter’s oeuvre. Marrying spontaneity with orchestration, it showcases the artist’s experimental approach to colour and technique as well as the unbridled nature of his compositions, elements that have remained recurring motifs in his celebrated masterpieces.



    Gerhard Richter in his studio with Spiegel (Mirror), 1981, and Abstraktes Bild (Faust) (Abstract Painting [Faust]), 1980, Düsseldorf, 1981.
    Image: © Gerhard Richter 2023 (0200)


    “With a brush you have control. The paint goes on the brush and you make the mark. From experience you know exactly what will happen. With the squeegee you lose control. ”
    — Gerhard Richter



    Why Paint With a Brush?


    At the start of the eighties, painting was making headway in reestablishing itself within the art world and was revitalised in part by neo-expressionism at the start of the decade. Led by figures such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Christopher Le Brun, Paula Rego, across the US and Britain, neo-expressionism saw notable influence and development in Germany, with German neo-expressionists known as Neue Wilden (new Fauve [artists]). Some such Neue Wilde artists included Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer in Richter’s native Germany, both of whom became synonymous with the movement.

    Though coming to prominence during this time, Richter’s art was far different from his contemporaries. Although Baselitz and Richter for instance were seen as influencers in their own rights (even participating in a joint exhibition together in 1981), ‘…the two artists could not have been more different…Baselitz was a pioneer of the new, fiercely gestural return to figurative painting…Richter, on the other hand, worked to suppress any hint of emotion in his painting…[and] in his capacity as professor, influenced a host of artists who came through the academy, particularly those interested in photography and theories of media.’ ii


    It is against this precise background that the present piece was created in 1980. A vanguard amongst others, Richter’s initial forays into his Abstraktes Bild series were experimental. Discovering as he proceeded, the artist looked at new ways to approach oil paint that were vastly different from his peers. Shifting from his focus on browns and greys in the decade before, Richter employed bold, bright colours on his canvases, manipulated to create variations in depth, tone, form and perception.


    Left: The present lot
    Right: Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild 456-1, 1980 – Richter’s first ever squeegee painting, painted in the same year as the present work.
    Artwork: Gerhard Richter 2023 (0200)


    Notably, Abstraktes Bild (456-2) is the second proper squeegee painting ever produced by Richter. New and unfamiliar to him at the time, this method that allowed him to paint without a brush was also pioneered in 1980. The artist discovered that the scraping motion of a squeegee allowed him to replicate blown-up paint details found in his past works on a much smaller scale, an effect he first experimented with in Abstraktes Bild (456-1)—an effect the curator Camille Morineau has noted as a ‘theatrically enlarged simulacrum’ iii, with the present lot being painted not long after.  A tool that has since become synonymous with the artist’s practice, the flat blade also became the catalyst for his move away from source imagery and photographic references to total abstraction.

    Layering different types of pigment, the squeegee is used to scrape away the still-wet paint, causing the colours to blend and melt into one another while also revealing what originally laid beneath. Abstraktes Bild (456-2) features vivid shades of primary colours mixed and blended in various directions, resulting in highly energetic sections of overlapping pigments that fill the foreground with a unique visual complexity. A seminal work executed during a pivotal turning point in Richter’s career, it was notably included in the 1982 show Abstrakte Bilder 1976 bis 1981 that travelled across Germany, where the current lot was highlighted with a full colour illustration on the cover of and within the published catalogue, as well as within Art Allemagne Aujourd’hui (German Art Today) at the Musée d’art modern de la Ville de Paris in 1981. Richter’s catalogue raisonné also dedicated two pages to the introduction of Abstraktes Bild (456-2), one of which features a full-page illustration, a testament to both the beauty and importance of this historic piece.


    Exhibition catalogue of Abstrakte Bilder 1976 bis 1981 featuring the present lot on its cover


    Whereas previous abstract paintings created in the same year leave traces of the artist’s brush strokes, the squeegee leaves behind no hint of Richter’s involvement, instead achieving a more gestural surface layer as the paint spreads freely under the soft pressure and levelling action applied by the tool. In Abstraktes Bild (456-2), unfilled gaps and smudges form part of the final product as hints of yellow and red peek through the dominating blue paint. Yet it is these marks which draw focus to the interactions between colour, texture and layers, a masterful display of pure abstraction composed purely of primary tones that encourages viewers to focus on the experience of seeing itself.



    Leaving Painting to Chance


    “Above all, it’s never blind chance: it’s a chance that is always planned, but also always surprising. And I need it in order to carry on. . .to introduce something different and disruptive. I’m often astonished to find how much better chance is than I am.”
    — Gerhard Richter, 1986


    Apart from providing a fresh perspective within his multifaceted practice, the use of a squeegee also added an element of chance into Richter’s works. The artist retains power over what colours to choose and mechanical control over the tool, allowing him to decide which direction to paint in or how much pressure to apply. However, Richter can never fully control how the paint streaks will turn out or if imperfections will occur. This introduction of the unknown holds some links with the practice of Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock and his radical ‘drip’ technique. Like Richter, Pollock does not leave traces of the brush on his canvases. Flinging thinned enamel paint onto the floor, he allows gravity and velocity to determine the final composition of his dynamic paintings.


    Jackson Pollock, One: Number 31, 1950, 1950
    Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
     © 2023 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    But although spontaneity is crucial to Richter’s works, helping to blur the lines between intention and coincidence, the artist believed it was equally important to find structure within disorder. While Pollock primarily based his practice on short bursts of intuition, Richter sought to find a balance between chance and systematic painting. He explains, ‘Above all, it's never blind chance: it's a chance that is always planned, but also always surprising. And I need it in order to carry on, in order to eradicate my mistakes, to destroy what I've worked out wrong, to introduce something different and disruptive. I'm often astonished to find how much better chance is than I am.’ iv


    Merging subjectivity and objectivity, accidental and premeditation, Abstraktes Bild (456-2) celebrates the instantaneous moment of creation, purposely uncontrollable and purely facilitating the application of paint rather than the final composition. Though Richter executes his paintings with strong visual logic, his repeated layering and destruction of its surface using an unpredictable tool prevents the final picture from even being predetermined, instead inducing the sensation of a long-lost figurative reality drifting just beyond the painting's tangible surface that reconciles the relationship between painting’s ability to represent, and man’s capability to perceive.



    Collector’s Digest


    • A tremendously influential powerhouse of contemporary art, Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden in 1932 and came of age during a period of intense political and cultural change. Richter studied art first at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1951 and then at the Düsseldorf Academy in 1961. Celebrated globally as one of the most important artists of his generation, 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.

    • Throughout the course of his career, Richter’s ‘Abstract Paintings’ have attracted serious interest from many prestigious collections—Abstraktes Bild 780-1, 1992, and 809-3, 1994, for instance, were acquired by the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. and the joint collection of Tate Modern and the National Galleries of Scotland, respectively.

    • In 2021, Richter permanently loaned 100 works to the Museum der Moderne in Berlin, which will held in a dedicated exhibition room once the museum opens in 2026. Gerhard Richter: 100 Works for Berlin, showcasing works from the collection, was recently opened on 1 April 2023 at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. The exhibition will run until 1 April 2026.


    i The Gerhard Richter Chronology, online
    ii Dietmar Elger, Elizabath M. Solaro, trans., Gerhard Richter: A Life In Painting, 2010, p. 257.
    iii Camille Morineau on GERHARD RICHTER: PANORAMA, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 6 June - 24 September 2012.
    iv Gerhard Richter, quoted in Hans Ulrich Obrist, ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting—Writings 1962-1993, London, 1995, p. 159.

    • Provenance

      Fred Jahn Gallery, Munich
      Collection Dieter Giesing, Hamburg
      Christie's, New York, 11 November 2004, lot 182
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Art Allemagne Aujourd'hui, 17 January - 8 March 1981
      Kunsthalle Bielefeld; Mannheimer Kunstverein; Munich, Galerie Fred Jahn, Gerhard Richter. Abstrakte Bilder 1976 bis 1981, 10 January - 26 June 1982, p. 63 (illustrated, p. 36, front cover)
      Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie; Kunsthalle Bern; Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Gerhard Richter. Bilder 1962–1985, 18 January - 21 September 1986, p. 392 (illustrated, p, 231)
      London, Tate Gallery, Gerhard Richter, 30 October 1991 - 12 January 1992, p. 79 (illustrated)
      Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Bonn, Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland; Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reine Sofia, Gerhard Richter, 23 September 1993- 22 August 1994, no. 456-2, pp. 177, 182 (illustrated, n.p.)

    • Literature

      Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 3: Nos. 389-651-2 (1976-1987), Ostfildern, 2013, no. 456-2, p. 180 (illustrated, p. 181)

    • 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. 

      View More Works

Property from a Distinguished European Collection


Abstraktes Bild (456-2)

signed, numbered and dated '456/2 Richter 1980' on the reverse
oil on canvas
65.3 x 80.3 cm. (25 3/4 x 31 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1980.

Full Cataloguing

HK$7,500,000 - 12,000,000 

Sold for HK$11,340,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 6 October 2023