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Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Property from a Private American Collector
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)

Zwei Kerzen (499-2)

Details
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Zwei Kerzen (499-2)
signed, numbered and dated '499-2 Richter 1982' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
59 x 39½ in. (150 x 100 cm.)
Painted in 1982.
Provenance
Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Private collection, Munich
Dickinson, London and New York
Private collection, London
Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
Gerhard Richter Paintings 1962-1985, exh. cat., Düsseldorf, 1986, p. 264 (illustrated).
B. Buchloch, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné, 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, no. 499-2 (illustrated in color).
N. N., "Gerhard Richter," bijutsu, November 2005, p. 47 (illustrated in color).
G. Iovane, "Gerhard Richter, Teoria e pratica," Carte d'Arte Internazionale, Winter 2006, p. 20 (illustrated in color).
T. Wagner, "Deutsche Bildstörung, Das Kunstmagazin, November 2008, p. 29 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Zurich, Galerie Konrad Fischer, Gerhard Richter, October-November 1982.
Stuttgart, Galerie Max-Ulrich Hetzler, Gerhard Richter Neue Bilder, November-December 1982.
Dresden, Galerie Neue Meister, Gerhard Richter im Albertinum, August 2004-January 2005.
Düsseldorf, K20 Kunstsammlung-Nordhein-Westfalen and Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Gerhard Richter, February-August 2005, p. 181 (illustrated in color).
Kanazawa, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art, Gerhard Richter, Painting as Mirror, September-October 2005, p. 50 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Zwei Kerzen (Two Candles) is one of a highly regarded series of paintings of Candles and Skulls that Gerhard Richter made in 1982 and 1983. Richter's Candle paintings coincided with his first large-scale abstract paintings, and represent the complete antithesis to those vast, colorful and playfully meaningless works. In direct contrast, Richter's Candle paintings are intimate and contemplative paintings of stunning photographic realism that hover brilliantly between the precise and the vague. Richter centered these paintings on the timeless image of lit candles standing before a window, creating finely crafted painterly meditations on light in all its physical, metaphorical and spiritual dimensions. These works embrace and evoke Romanticism and the long art-historical tradition of memento-mori at the very same time as they undermine such things and throw them all open to question.

Richter's Candle paintings depict one, two or three lit candles - that he exquisitely renders in stunning photographic-style detail - standing in front of a vague, nondescript interior. Among the larger of the series, Zwei Kerzen was one of four candle paintings that Richter chose to exhibit at the Galerie Max Hetzler in November 1982 in the wake of his first exhibition of large abstract paintings at the Dokumenta 7. Appearing alongside the vast abstract painting Orangerie he had shown at the Dokumenta, Richter intended these four candle paintings to strike a distinct contrast with his new explorations in abstraction. The Candle paintings echo his misty romantic-looking mountain landscapes or his ethereal Cloudscapes of the early 1970s. The candles themselves relate to a longstanding tradition of still life memento-mori painting. The lit candle symbolizes life's brevity and the human condition's fleeting temporal nature, as well as spiritual hope, always intertwined with religious ritual and practice. The candle offered itself as a perfect subject for a pragmatic, atheist and fiercely anti-ideological painter such as Richter, who has nevertheless repeatedly declared his belief in art as "the highest form of hope" - it was ideal for his always deliberately open, enigmatic and ambiguous aesthetic.

Fittingly, Richter began the Candle paintings when he turned fifty. Robert Storr even saw these works as "forerunners to Richter's much darker reflection on mortality that comprises (his painterly meditations on the deaths of the Baader-Meinhof group) the October 18, 1977 cycle" of 1988. (R. Storr, Gerhard Richter, Forty years of Painting, exh. cat., New York, 2002, p. 74). Richter said he began painting the candle motif to mask his own very real fear of death. "I was fascinated by these motifs," he said, "and that (fascination) is also nicely distanced. I felt protected because the motifs are so art-historically charged, and I no longer need to say that I painted them for myself. The motifs were covered by this styled composition, out-of-focus quality, and perfection. So beautifully painted, they take away the fear" (G. Richter, quoted in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 262).


Indeed, it is easy to enjoy Richter's sublime skill, and to let that mask the paintings' more meditative and melancholic nature. Richter deliberately rendered each painting as a photographic abstraction. He shows the candles' simple vertical forms punctuating and enlivening the blurry void of light and interior space. He does this in much the same way that Barnett Newman used zips to vitalize and humanize vast empty existential fields of monochrome color in his great abstracts of the 1950s and 1960s. Richter thusly fuses the real and the illusory, the figurative and the abstract, the painted and the photographed, all together in an enigmatic, hazy pictorial netherland. The painting evokes all these distinct realms of existence but belongs exclusively to none. Richter blurs the painted image like a photograph, generating, in this work especially, a candlelight-like haze that permeates every level of pictorial reality.

Richter adopts a classical motif, laying bare the painter's and the photographer's tools and tricks, exposing the illusionary nature of all representation. Richter asserts that these subtle, sensual, highly emotive and meditative images - rich in religious symbolism, art-historical tradition and contemplative meaning - are, like his abstract paintings, merely fictions. They are lovely but illusionary figments of our own conventions and strategies of seeing.

The Candle paintings take a similar approach to his vast abstract paintings of this same period in the way they openly deconstruct abstract art's language: pictorial composition, painterly gesture, color's power to instill or evoke emotion and so on. Richter also uses these subtle, gentle-toned images of quiet domestic meditation to deconstruct figurative art's traditions and language, in particular still life painting. The paintings do this through their dismantling play with light, for they are not strictly speaking paintings of still life. These works fixedly concentrate on the flickering, moving, changing and impermanent candle flames, shimmering with unpredictability and uncertainty at the picture's epicenter, its very heart. These candlelight qualities pervade every aspect of these paintings: constant flickering uncertainty, impermanence and unpredictability. Their hazy indistinct backgrounds also seem to vibrate in the candle flame's flickering light. Richter articulates layer upon layer of illusionary reality to combine and merge many different types of light into one shimmering and fascinating - but ultimately enigmatic -surface.

In this work, natural light streams through the window, which Richter seamlessly merges - on the dry-brush-blurred painterly surface - with the room's indistinct light and the candle flames' radiating light. He also permeates each of these light sources with the artificiality conveyed by both the photographic source material and the pigment-based light and color of Richter's paint. In this way, the painting not only meditates, memento-mori-like, on mortality and art historical tradition, but also on light itself as another fiction. Light and color are illusionary in the sense that they hit the human retina at a certain frequency through which the eye, like an artist, composes its own picture of the world. Richter's Capitalist Realist colleague Sigmar Polke explored this aspect of light, illusion and reproduction in his raster-dot paintings of the early 1960s. Richter explores the same theme, in paintings such as Zwei Kerzen, using subject matter that is more traditional and a painterly technique close to that of the old masters.

Ultimately, subject matter becomes a mere excuse for painting, as in all Richter's works, whether abstract or figurative. Richter once referred to subject matter as a mere "model" that serves the painter as a vehicle through which he can practice his art. "When I paint a candle and a skull," he recently told Dietmar Elger, "it's above all painting. Yes, it's even nothing but painting. People have also said that my painting is intellectual. I don't think I'm a complete idiot, and I don't like idiotic painting, but I don't consider myself to be an intellectual. People have also spoken of conceptual painting. But everyone needs a concept!" (G. Richter, quoted in D. Elgar and H. U. Obrist (eds.) Gerhard Richter - TEXT: Writings, Interviews and Letters, 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 307)

Richter'sCandle paintings have also taken on a wider significance than he originally intended. In 1995, Richter marked the 50th anniversary of Dresden's destruction by firebombing in the Second World War, by allowing the city to reproduce one of his candle paintings on a vast scale as a large fabric street sign, which they hung on the side of a building on the banks of the river Elbe. There it served as a symbol of his hometown's revitalized culture in marked contrast to the devastating night of February 13, 1945 when the RAF destroyed the city.
"At first it was only intended to look pretty," Richter has said, "but later a politically useful statement was also found in the picture... (as)... candles had always been an important symbol for the GDR, as a silent protest against the regime...it was a strange feeling to see that a small picture of candles was turning into something completely different, something that I had never intended. Because, as I was painting it, it neither had this unequivocal meaning nor was it intended to be anything like a street picture. It sort of ran away from me and became something over which I no longer had control...When I painted the Candles I wasn't thinking of February the 13th but I did experience feelings to do with contemplation, remembering, silence and death" (G. Richter, quoted in D. Elgar and H. U. Obrist (eds.) Gerhard Richter - TEXT: Writings, Interviews and Letters, 1961-2007, London, 2009, pp. 320 and 354).

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