Gerhard Richter - Evening & Day Editions London Thursday, June 6, 2024 | Phillips
  • Gerhard Richter’s Orchidee II is one of five prints created by the artist that meditate on the delicate form of this tropical flower, each shifting between various viewpoints and degrees of sharpness. These compositions were based on a photograph of Richter’s 1997 oil painting Orchidee, which in turn was based on an earlier photograph of an orchid taken by the artist. As the orchid motif has journeyed across media, blooming in and out of focus, it diverts increasingly further from the original source at each step. Richter does not conceal evidence of these various stages, but rather incorporates them, utilising the blur of his camera as well as the sfumato of his brush. This multi-stage process was completed across years, finding completion in works such as Orchidee II. It poignantly toys with our understanding of photography, printing and painting, questioning notions of originality, reproduction and, subsequently, the underpinnings of art itself.


    Adolphe Braun, Flower Study, Rose of Sharon, 1854, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Gilman Paper Company, in memory of Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr., 1987

    In depicting the orchid, Richter draws on a rich history of artists using flowers in art to serve as poignant reminders of mortality. Timeless memento-mori (the Latin literally meaning “remember you must die”), flowers encapsulate the fleeting nature of life with their delicate beauty. From the vivid blooms of Dutch still lifes to the wilting petals of classical vanitas paintings, flowers have captivated artists as they symbolise life’s transient cycle of growth, decay, and rebirth. In Orchidee II, Richter similarly endows the composition with an unnerving reminder of the passage of time and the fragility of our ephemeral existence. Richter’s methodical reproduction of the orchid motif across media – photography, paint and lithography – diminishes the element of “life” from the original source. In this sense, the flower’s symbolic value is heightened, creating a powerful rumination on the interconnectedness of life, death, and the enduring role of art in understanding these complexities.


    Clara Peeters, A Bouquet of Flowers, c. 1612, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: ©  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Howard S. and Nancy Marks, Friends of European Paintings, and Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill Gifts, Gift of Humanities Fund Inc., by exchange, Henry and Lucy Moses Fund Inc. Gift, and funds from various donors, 2020, 2020.22

    Photography similarly possesses a profound and inherent connection with the passing of time. The French theorist Roland Barthes proposed that the medium of photography always induces a melancholic reminder of death, as it freezes a moment in time that is already lost. A photograph seeks to freeze that moment for eternity; it is this act of preservation which is almost defiant against the inevitability of time’s passing and so, in turn, it offers a tangible reminder of life's transient nature. Each click of the shutter is a testament to existence, a fleeting instant captured and preserved in an attempt to momentarily halt the ceaseless march of time. For Richter, his use of photography deftly navigates the intersection of painting, mechanical reproduction, and the transience of time. Through photographing his own paintings and then utilising these photographs as source material for new works, Richter blurs the boundaries between original and copy, past and present. In doing so, he invites contemplation on the fluidity of artistic creation and the ever-shifting nature of perception. His method becomes a reflection on how images, like memories, evolve over time, acquiring new layers of meaning with each iteration.

    “Of course, pictures of objects also have this transcendental side to them. Every object, being part of an ultimately incomprehensible world, also embodies that world; when represented in a picture, the object conveys this mystery all the more powerfully”
    —Gerhard Richter

    Crucially, Richter did not simply reproduce his painting in photographic form; he made intentional deviations. In re-photographing his former works the artist reflects on their distinct formal aspects, making subtle modifications detected only by the scrupulous eye.  As Richter stated: “In the photographs, I take even more focus out of the painted image... and made the picture even smoother. I also subtract the materiality, the surface of the painting, and it becomes something different.” The varying depths of field and colouration paired with the compositional cropping throughout the series showcase the deliberate experimentation of a thoroughly reconfigured picture. The use of the soft focus evokes the impression of a demonstrative naivety in photography, whereas the sfumato-blurring of the out-of-focus flowers in paint typifies the technical prowess of the painter. This dichotomy between photography and paint therefore establishes a creative tension between the two mediums – opposing yet integral to the final print.

    • Provenance

      The artist
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1999

    • Literature

      Hubertus Butin 103

    • 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


Orchidee II (Orchid II) (B. 103)

Offset lithograph in colours, on lightweight cardboard, mounted between Plexiglas plates, with strainer on the reverse (as issued).
29.5 x 37.4 cm (11 5/8 x 14 3/4 in.)
Signed, dated and numbered 15/25 in pencil on the reverse (there were also 5 artist's proofs), published by the artist.

Full Cataloguing

£20,000 - 30,000 ♠†

Sold for £38,100

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 6 - 7 June 2024