Gerhard Richter - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    'Düsenjäger' | Gerhard Richter

    Chairwoman Cheyenne Westphal discusses the historic, political and artistic influences behind one of Gerhard Richter's first photorealist paintings.

  • Provenance

    Collection of the Artist
    Collection of Günther Uecker, Dusseldorf
    Private Collection, Dusseldorf
    Galerie Schmela, Dusseldorf
    Galerie Hans Strelow, Dusseldorf/Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne
    Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
    Collection of Susan and Lewis Manilow, Chicago (acquired from the above)
    Christie's, New York, 13 November 2007, lot 16
    Private Collection, Seattle
    Phillips, New York, 16 November 2016, lot 7
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document, 18 January - 30 April 1995, no. 13, p. 88, 91 (illustrated, p. 91)
    The Art Institute of Chicago, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, 22 June - 8 September 2002

  • Literature

    Wolkenkratzer Art Journal, December 1984 - February 1985, p. 84 (illustrated)
    Gerhard Richter: Bilder Paintings 1962-1985, exh. cat., Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Nationalgalerie Berlin, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz; Kunsthalle Bern; Vienna, Museum moderner Kunst/Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, 1986, no. 13a, pp. 6, 357 (illustrated, p. 6)
    L'art aujourd'hui en République Fédérale d'Allemagne, Bonn, 1988, p. 27 (illustrated)
    Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Peter Gidal and Birgit Pelzer eds., Gerhard Richter: Volume III: Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Ostfildern, 1993, no. 13a, p. 148 (illustrated)
    Gerhard Richter in Dallas Collections, exh. cat., Dallas Museum of Art, 2000, p. 2
    Jürgen Harten, Ein Maler aus Deutschland. Gerhard Richter. Das Drama einer Familie, Munich, 2005, p. 18
    Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, pp. 125, 165
    Identity Foundation, ed., Deutsche Identität Denken, Dusseldorf, 2009, n.p. (illustrated)
    Robert Storr, September: A History Painting by Gerhard Richter, London, 2010, pp. 63-64, 93 (illustrated, p. 63)
    Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1, 1962-1968, Ostfildern, 2011, no. 13a, p. 71 (illustrated)
    Gerhard Richter: Streifen & Glas, exh. cat., Albertinum, Galerie Neue Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden; Kunstmuseum Winterthur, 2013, p. 58
    Christian Lotz, The Art of Gerhard Richter: Hermeneutics, Images, Meaning, London, 2015, p. 139
    Francesca Pietropaolo, ed., Robert Storr: Interviews on Art, London, 2017, pp. 715-716
    Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., The National Gallery Prague, 2017, p. 16

  • Catalogue Essay

    Düsenjäger (Jet Fighter), 1963, is one of Gerhard Richter’s historic early works. Stretching two metres in width, it is one of the artist’s first Photo Paintings—cited as number 13-a in Richter’s self-edited list of recognised works—and dates from the dawn of German Pop art. Echoing concurrent artistic thrusts in the United States, Düsenjäger recalls Roy Lichtenstein’s Blam from 1962; yet, where Lichtenstein opted for melodrama with the same subject matter, Richter treated his subject in a deliberately understated manner. By 1963, when Düsenjäger was painted, Richter had honed a new and persuasive visual language which would become the cornerstone for his artistic development. During the course of that year, the success of his photorealistic works would see him involved in his first major exhibitions in Dusseldorf, as well as his first contract with an art dealer. It is a further tribute to the importance of Düsenjäger that it was formerly owned by the artist Günther Uecker.

    Düsenjäger is one of the first of a group of eight celebrated paintings that Richter made of warplanes during this period—only one other dates from 1963, with the rest made the following year. Of these, four are in German museum collections. Most of them also feature what subsequently became Richter’s main palette—the grisaille; with its combination of grey and pink, Düsenjäger is a rare exception, joined by only two works from 1964, Mustang-Staffel and XL 513. The latter work, now in the Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, shows a Cold War era British bomber, and shares the dusk-like blush of pink that features in Düsenjäger. With their combed brushwork, both pictures channel the power of the jets they represent, capturing a sense of the blur as they speed past.

    The use of colour in Düsenjäger was rare not only among Richter’s depictions of warplanes but across all the works he created during this important early period. The previous year, his Eisläuferin and Party had featured smears and spatter of red, adding a sense of near-violence to the works and echoing Art Informel. In Party, now in the Musuem Frieder Burda, a pair of legs is shown in flesh tones, prefiguring the link to realism and naturalism showcased in Düsenjäger. Similarly, in Schloß Neuschwanstein, also owned by the Musuem Frieder Burda, the greenery surrounding the eponymous castle is shown in colour, revealing the link to the photographic source that had tethered the flesh colour in Party. This was explored to vivid effect in Mund of 1963, now in the Art Institute of Chicago, which shows a vivid red mouth against the swirling flesh tones of an implied face. In that work, Richter used a palette that invoked photographic realism yet did so in a composition so reduced that it borders upon abstraction, revealing his interest in the mechanics of representation.

    Richter’s investigation of colour dynamics came to the fore in his later Colour Chart series, in which individual blocks of monochrome are shown next to each other, clinically isolated and juxtaposed. In Düsenjäger, the dynamism of colour gives a sense of motion that is accentuated by the cropping of the plane’s nose, as though it has sped past too fast for the original photographer to capture. Richter uses this to trick the viewer into inferring a sense of movement, when the paint itself is all too still. This process works in parallel to the disconnect between the high drama of Lichtenstein’s Blam and the slow process of its creation. It is in the tension between the explosive dynamism of Richter’s and Lichtenstein’s images and the slowness of their creation that some of their visceral conceptual power lies.

    The term Pop may have been used as early as the 1950s in Great Britain, but it was at the beginning of the 1960s that the concept took hold on each side of the Atlantic. While in the United States, artists such as Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol turned their sights on current media and consumerism as inspiration and subject matter, so too did Richter, alongside his friends Sigmar Polke and Konrad Lueg (later Fischer). The emergence of Pop Art in the States gave a further impetus to these artists; it was in a copy of Art International that Richter had seen an image of one of Lichtenstein’s advert-based paintings in 1962. Soon thereafter, he saw Lichtenstein’s works in the flesh during a trip to Paris in early 1963, when he and Lueg visited the gallery of Ileana Sonnabend. Richter has explained that these works did not provide his inspiration—he had already begun to incorporate found images into his paintings, first with a photograph of Brigitte Bardot. However, Lichtenstein’s work, along with his recognition and success, provided validation. Bolstered by this revelation, Richter and some of his contemporaries launched themselves into a distinctive programme of exhibitions and painting, including a show in Dusseldorf with Kuttner, Lueg and Polke, which gave Richter the occasion to publicly connect their paintings to Pop Art.

    Richter’s iteration of Pop Art saw the artist using found images in several ways. The slow process of painting, the painstaking attention to detail involved in creating his work by hand, the presence of the visible brushstrokes, all come into a new focus when married to an image from the media. Where Lichtenstein was fascinated by the nature of seeing, dismantling the entire process of looking at an image and the short-hand by which information was optically transferred, Richter was discovering a means to continue painting. Taking photographs and committing them to canvas through oils, the long process of applying brushstroke after brushstroke, allowed him to circumvent the long-proclaimed death of painting and revive it in the modern world.

    Düsenjäger perfectly demonstrates this paradox. It is an easily-read image. It is filled with atmosphere, with motion and drama. But unlike Lichtenstein’s stencilled works and Warhol’s silkscreens, there is an emphasis on the materiality of the paint, which itself insists upon our recognition of the artist’s hand in its creation. This is in particular the case in the combed brushwork, which adds a tactile dimension to the surface and recalls the motion of Richter's seminal Zwei Fiat, housed in the Museum Frieda Burda, Baden-Baden. This, after all, is an appropriated image. It is ultimately a still life, a painting of a photograph—a fact that is underlined by the pale bands at the top and bottom of the canvas. ‘The idea that art copies nature is a fatal misconception,’ Richter explained. ‘Art has always operated against nature and for reason. Every word, every line, every thought is prompted by the age we live in, with all its circumstances, its ties, its efforts, its past and present. It is impossible to act or think independently and arbitrarily. This is comforting, in a way’ (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes’, 1962, Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist eds., Gerhard Richter Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 14).

    Occasionally attempting to play down the importance of content in his paintings, Richter claimed that it was the act of reproducing a photograph by hand that was key; yet it is clear that many of his works contained pointed and even provocative references to the world around him. Taking the pictures of warplanes alone as an example, several of them show images of bombers from the Allied forces, either current or historic. In the latter case, these are essentially the bombers that had destroyed Richter’s former home of Dresden during his own childhood. It would appear to be no coincidence that only two of the images show overtly German planes— in Schärzler, a jet sporting the Luftwaffe insignia, and the dive-bombing Stukas in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich. Violence is invoked in all the pictures of warplanes, whether presenting a bomber dropping its payload or, in Düsenjäger, displaying the gleaming force of a jet streaking past. In this sense, this is Pop Art less in the vein of Lichtenstein’s cartoonish images of aerial heroics than of Warhol’s contemporaneous images of Car Crashes and Electric Chairs.

    In Düsenjäger, the use of colour can also be seen as a parallel to Warhol’s ability to disrupt his subject matter. For example, in some of his images of the recently-deceased Marilyn or his gun-toting Elvis, the highly-keyed colours undercut the sense of violence. Similarly, the Electric Chairs and Car Crashes were shown in a rainbow of colours. Richter’s use of pink in Düsenjäger appears vaguely naturalistic, especially against the backdrop of the metallic-grey plane; yet at the same time, there is the sense that he has bottled an image of violence, of the kind of hi-tech weaponry that had fascinated him when he had been a boy, that is linked to machismo, manliness and aggression undermined in his use of pink. This is akin to Warhol’s images of Elvis pointing his pistol, which in his hands took on an association of high camp rather than menace.

    Richter’s ambivalent use of the machinery of war as subject matter would have been all the more pertinent in 1963, when he painted Düsenjäger. After all, this was a crucial moment of tension in the Cold War. Richter, who had only recently defected from communist East Germany to the capitalist West, and who had grown up under the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler, was all too aware of the danger of idealisms. While no date within the course of 1963 is ascribed to Düsenjäger, it is worth noting that Richter himself accorded it a catalogue raisonné number that placed it soon after one of the pictures thematically linked to the assassination of the American president, John F. Kennedy. This had taken place on 22 November that year—less than half a year after he had famously addressed a massive crowd in Berlin, declaring ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ His presence in Berlin had itself underscored the gravity of the situation in the Cold War. Only a month before his death, American forces had also carried out Operation Big Lift, a highly-publicised exercise demonstrating that they could shift over 15,000 troops across the Atlantic from the United States to West Germany, as well as hundreds of tons of material. This was intended to showcase the agility of the NATO strike force. Düsenjäger, thus, was painted against the backdrop of some of the highest tensions since the end of the Second World War.

    In this sense, its subject matter was highly pertinent. The jet in Düsenjäger is a Fiat G-91, nick-named the ‘Gina’. This versatile jet had been specifically designed for use by NATO at the end of the 1950s and was adopted by the Luftwaffe amongst other air forces. A brilliant success then, it later became the subject of a novel franchise deal. Becoming the first warplane to be made in West Germany since the end of the Second World War, the ‘Gina’ showed an image of post-war reconciliation, of West Germany’s rehabilitation. Intriguingly, in the case of Düsenjäger, the plane shown appears to sport the extended cockpit of the G-91 T—the double cabin designed for training pilots, inculcating a new generation into the ways of war.

    Düsenjäger taps into the visual language with which the technology of warfare continues to be fetishised. Richter, despite the supposedly inscrutable deadpan of an appropriated photograph, approaches his subject matter from a point of view that both embraces and critiques this fascination. Düsenjäger was painted from the unresolved, and therefore all the more engaging, perspective of an artist who has lived under Nazism, Socialism and Capitalism, painted against the backdrop of an age that veered relentlessly from optimism to pessimism and back again. Historic, political and artistic tensions course through Düsenjäger, and these result in its becoming both very much of its time, and transcending the context of its own creation: a masterpiece of Pop.

  • 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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signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'DÜSENJÄGER (WV-Nr. 13a) Richter 1963' on a label affixed to the overlap
oil on canvas
128.9 x 197.8 cm (50 3/4 x 77 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1963.

£10,000,000 - 15,000,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £15,532,500

Contact Specialist
Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2019