Gerhard Richter - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • '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 RichterChromatically dazzling in its bold striations of iridescent reds, blues, and yellows, Abstraktes Bild 761-1 is a stunning example from the golden age of German artist Gerhard Richter’s abstraction, executed several years after he first adopted his renowned squeegee technique. Radiant, lyrical, and muscular, Richter’s skill as a colourist is particularly pronounced here, building rhythmic intersections of horizontal and vertical swathes of paint to a complex, painterly crescendo across its fluid, shifting surface.


    As one of the most influential and innovative artists of the late twentieth-century, and a towering figure of abstraction, Richter has redefined the limits of painterly representation over the course of his long and illustrious career. Born in Dresden in 1932, the artist 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. With a didactic emphasis on Social Realism, the Dresden Academy seems an unlikely place for this master of 20th century abstraction to have cut his teeth, further emphasising the pioneering nature of his future work. Exploring a range of different artistic styles and technical approaches, Richter eventually settled on an experimental mode of figurative painting where he reproduced photographs in oil. Known as his photographic paintings, these works gained him international recognition in the early 1960s. More closely liked to his later chromatic abstractions than might initially appear, these works captured the artist’s interest in a kind of visual equivalence, blurring the image allowing Richter ‘to make everything equally important and equally unimportant.’i Eventually discarding the material underpinning of the photograph completely, Richter made the final leap into abstraction.


    Detail of the present work
    Detail of the present work

     As the critical reception of recent survey exhibitions of Richter’s painting at the Met Breuer and drawings at the Hayward Gallery highlight, interest in Richter’s practice remains as robust as ever, especially with regards to his celebrated and ongoing Abstraktes Bild series, represented here in the attractively sized Abstraktes Bild 761-1, coming to auction for the first time in nearly 20 years. This visually arresting work is a paradigmatic example of the artist’s technical and conceptual approach, executed at a time in the early 1990s when the artist was at the height of his intellectual and aesthetic enquiry into the nature of abstraction itself.


     German artist Gerhard in front of his painting Yellow Green at his exhibition, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, January 18th 2008.
Image: Picture Alliance/DPA /Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Gerhard Richter 2022 (0040)
    German artist Gerhard in front of his painting Yellow Green at his exhibition, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, January 18th 2008. Image: Picture Alliance/DPA /Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Gerhard Richter 2022 (0040)

    Richter’s Intellectual Abstraction


    Like other Richter works of this period, Abstraktes Bild 761-1 excavates the very meaning of painting. Its intended focus is not on representation per se, but upon what it means to see a painting, where accumulations, unexpected pairings and chance erasures create an artwork that is both contingent and deliberate. Using his now famous squeegee technique, Richter scrapes paint across the canvas, the tool removing paint at the same time as it blends pigments together. Simultaneously revealing and concealing, these veils of colour become themselves the object of the work, there is no pre-figured image that is abstracted, rather it is the paint itself which is the subject in what Richter terms a ‘free abstract’. The result is a vivid concentration on the question of the action of painting itself, the richly layered surface dramatising the recurrent forces of creation and destruction enacted across it. Perhaps the biggest erasure is that of the artist’s hand itself; there is nothing in Richter’s abstract paintings of this period that even hint of the gestural or the expressionist, save that the squeegee effect acts as a ‘blow-up’ of the brush stroke itself. Instead, what is presented is a continuum of creation, a series of creative moments that succeed one into the other, as noted by Richter himself who has elucidated: ‘A picture like this is painted in different layers, separated by intervals of time.’ii


    Building on a 20th century modernist legacy of critical reappraisal of questions around the image and image-making that includes the variegated surfaces of German Surrealist Max Ernst’s frottage experiments and Willem de Kooning’s dense, richly textured canvases, Richter here manipulates broad passages of stunningly vibrant primary colour, using a diverse range of artistic tools to brush, scrape, and drag his pigments across his canvas, generating a strikingly energetic and muscular quality as wide strokes seem to flex and bend against each other.



    Right: Max Ernst, The Whole Town, 1933, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. Image: © Kunstmuseum den Haag / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022
    Left: Willem de Kooning, Easter Monday, 1955–56, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © Willem de Kooning Revocable Trust/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022 
    Right: Max Ernst, The Whole Town, 1933, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. Image: © Kunstmuseum den Haag / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022

     Deep Reds


    The foundational layer of the painting is executed in a deep red pigment, highly characteristic of Richter’s work from this period, exemplified in the corpus of Blood Red Mirror Paintings and the cycle of six monumental canvases entitled Abstraktes Rhombus permanently housed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. This background has what Richter terms an ‘illusionist’ quality (ibid), a smooth surface that Richter’s squeegee will both decimate and extend with succeeding additions of colour and paint. The work demonstrates an ease and spontaneity that is in sharp contrast to the artist’s notoriously laborious and complex working method, where Richter will have obsessively applied, reapplied, erased, remade, and at times obliterated the paint strata until the desired visual effect is achieved. The result of this aesthetic oscillation is a striking stimulation of the viewer’s tactile senses; lattices of vibrant primary colours crisscrossing the canvas to create a hypnotic, immersive experience.


    Clip from Corinna Belz, Gerhard Richter Painting, 2008 – 2009


    Gerhard Richter

    •    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.


    •    Richter’s work is currently being exhibited at the Espace Louis Vuitton Osaka. Abstrakt, which features 18 of the artist’s works from the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s collection, is on view until 17 April 2022.


    •    In November 2021, Richter signed a long-term loan agreement with the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, granting them 100 artworks, including his ‘Birkenau’ series which reflects on the Holocaust – a series that the artist has expressed must never be sold on the art market.


    •    In 2016, Richter’s iconic Dϋsenjäger sold for $25,565,000 in New York. 

    i Gerhard Richter, Gerhard Richter: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961 – 2007, London, 2009, p. 33. 
    ii Interview with Wolfgang Pehnt in Richter, 2009, p. 132

    • Provenance

      The Artist
      Collection Michael Becher, Bremen
      Schönewald Fine Art Xanten / Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
      Galerie Terminus, Munich
      Private Collection, Berlin
      Villa Grisebach Auktionen, Berlin, 1 December 2006, lot 97
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Munich, Galerie Terminus, Gerhard Richter: sichtweise-schichtweise, 30 May - 30 June 2006

    • Literature

      Angelika Thill, ed., Gerhard Richter. Catalogue Raisonné Band III, 1962-1993, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, no. 761-1, p. 193 (illustrated, p. 136)
      Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 4, Nos. 652-1 - 805-6, 1988-1994, Ostfildern, 2015, no. 761-1, p. 439 (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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Abstraktes Bild

signed, numbered and dated '761-1 Richter 1992' on the reverse
oil on canvas
82 x 61.7 cm (32 1/4 x 24 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1992.

Full Cataloguing

£1,800,000 - 2,500,000 ‡♠

Contact Specialist

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

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022