Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
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Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)

Schatten 6

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Schatten 6
signed and dated 'Richter 68' (on the reverse); titled 'Schatten 6' (on the stretcher)
oil and graphite on canvas
21¾ x 19¾in. (55.1 x 50.1cm.)
Executed in 1968
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 8 May 1997, lot 229.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné, 1962-1993, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, no. 209-11 (illustrated, unpaged).
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Lot Essay

During the second half of the 1960s, Gerhard Richter increasingly explored means of blurring and subverting the divisions between figurative and abstract art. In Schatten 6, painted in 1968, the stark formality of these forms, these lines and angles, deliberately recalls the pictures of De Stijl artists such as Piet Mondrian, albeit reduced to a perverse grisaille. At the same time, Richter appears to be either doffing his cap to - or, more likely, cocking a snook at - the emerging art of the Minimalists.

Several years earlier, Richter had begun to paint from photographs, using the source material in readymade images and translating it into oils. Richter chose photographic sources in part because of their lack of subjectivity, and it is to retain this that his paintings often avoid any manipulation other than a deliberate blurring. 'The photograph took the place of all those paintings, drawings and illustrations that served to provide information about the reality that they represented,' Richter explained a couple of years before Schatten 6 was painted.

'A photograph does this more reliably and more credibly than any other painting. It is the only picture that tells the absolute truth, because it sees 'objectively'. It usually gets believed, even where it is technically faulty and the content is barely identifiable... Photographs we regarded as true, paintings as artificial. The painted picture was no longer credible; its representation froze into immobility, because it was not authentic but invented' (Richter, Notes, 1964-1965, quoted in H.-U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, trans. David Britt, London 1995, pp. 30-31).

In this sense, Richter was painting pictures that were objective, that were honest. They are figurative representations of an original scene, but are all the more figurative as reproductions of the photographic source itself. This transformation was a process that was at once democratic, raising the status of the most humble, throwaway pictures by enshrining them in oils, and at the same time was (ironically) iconoclastic, charging headlong at the traditional hegemonies that remained in the art world, even in the age of the Abstract Expressionists. Richter's paintings chip away at the entire notion of the artist as a privileged soul. Instead, he has expressly reduced himself to little more than a camera, copying pictures in a literal, almost mechanical way. And in Schatten 6, he has developed a new twist on this concept. He has taken an image of a frame casting a shadow and has used it as the prompt for a picture that ultimately, in its crisp geometry and planarity, cannot help but appear abstract, allowing his picture to masquerade as so many things despite its humble illusionistic origin as a photo of a frame.

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