Gerhard Richter - Evening & Day Editions London Thursday, June 6, 2024 | Phillips
  • “There are many “Uncle Rudis” in Germany and the universality of it is what interested me. He symbolically represents the soldiers of the Third Reich.”
    —Gerhard Richter

    Across his oeuvre, Gerhard Richter has repeatedly engaged with twentieth century history, particularly the catastrophic events that took place in Germany under the Nazi regime. No work embodies Richter’s direct yet thoughtful approach to confronting this past more so than Onkel Rudi (Uncle Rudi), created in 2000. It presents the artist’s maternal uncle, Rudolf Schönfelder, and was based on a 1965 painting Richter made of a family photograph he brought with him after he fled the GDR to West Germany. At once direct and tender, the image captures Rudolf standing rigidly before army barracks, with a bashful grin directed at the camera. He is dressed in the Wehrmacht uniform worn by Nazi soldiers during World War II. This poignantly alludes to Uncle Rudi’s death, as he would die fighting at the front in 1944. As the title makes clear, there is a deeply personal relationship between the subject and the artist; Richter turned away from public historical records to instead probe his own personal history, reaching into his family archive for source material. Here, as Uncle Rudi stands smartly dressed with a beaming smile, his hazy image shifts in and out of focus in blurred tones of grey, materialising like that of a distant memory.


    Gerhard Richter. Image: Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

    Photographic portraiture was traditionally favoured for its reliability to capture the sitter mimetically and to convey status. Richter, however, took an antagonistic stance, manipulating the image of his uncle to evade some degree of perception and to remove all associations of grandeur. The cibachrome edition is not just a reproduction of the earlier painting, but a clear modification; the composition is slightly cropped at the top and bottom, and somewhat enlarged, the effect being to concentrate the focus on Rudolf’s awkward stance while rendering him noticeably small. This compositional manipulation subverts the severity of the fascist undertones and instead renders the figure almost child-like. His size and juvenile grin make it increasingly difficult to imagine him following callous Nazi orders. 


    At once deeply personal while also speaking to the wider cultural context of post-war Germany’s cultural amnesia, Onkel Rudi (Uncle Rudi) is an exemplar embodiment of what German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the “banality of evil”. Having travelled to Jerusalem to witness the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, a Nazi official responsible for the extinction of European Jews during the Holocaust, Arendt reported that the event was almost lacklustre. What formed was a poignant notion that Eichmann’s involvement was not solely due to some sadistic disposition but instead thoughtlessness. Indeed, the lack of reflection on his actions, having carried out bureaucratic activities without considering the enormous immoral implications, is terrifyingly normal: the “banality of evil” applies not just to specific ignoramus individuals, but to the thousands of other Germans citizens recruited into the Nazi regime – like Uncle Rudi.


    Lying between a deeply personal and historical confrontation of accountability and responsibility, Onkel Rudi (Uncle Rudi) is a unique vehicle through which to examine Germany’s recent history on a universal and individual level. The image humanises those involved in fascist regime and reminds the viewer that heinous criminals are not bread outside of our society; they live among us.

    • Provenance

      The artist
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008

    • Literature

      Hubertus Butin 111

    • 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


Onkel Rudi (Uncle Rudi) (B. 111)

Cibachrome print, mounted to white Alu-Dibond plate (as issued), the full sheet.
framed 96 x 58.5 cm (37 3/4 x 23 in.)
Signed and numbered 52/80 in black felt-tip pen on the reverse of the frame (there were also 25 artist's proof in Roman numerals), published by Centro Per L'Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, Italy, contained in the original artist's specified wooden frame.

Full Cataloguing

£12,000 - 18,000 ♠†

Sold for £13,970

Contact Specialist
+44 20 7318 4024

Rebecca Tooby-Desmond
Specialist, Head of Sale, Editions

Robert Kennan
Head of Editions, Europe

Anne Schneider-Wilson
Senior International Specialist, Editions

Louisa Earl
Associate Specialist, Editions

Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 6 - 7 June 2024