Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)

Grau (Grey)

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Grau (Grey)
signed, numbered and dated '247-6 Richter 1970' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78¾ x 39 3/8in. (199 x 100cm.)
Painted in 1970
Galerie Konrad Fischer, Dusseldorf.
Ulbricht Collection, Dusseldorf.
Achenbach Art Consulting, Dusseldorf.
Bernd F. Lunkewitz Aufbauverlag Collection, Frankfurt (acquired from the above in the 1980s).
His sale, Christie's London, 6 February 2008, lot 26.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Harten and D. Elger (eds.), Gerhard Richter: Paintings 1962-1985, Cologne 1986, no. 247-6 (illustrated, p. 112).
B. Buchloh (ed.), Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, no. 247-6 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Bonn, Städtisches Kunstmuseum, Sammlung Ulbricht, 1982-1983, no. 177 (illustrated, p. 67). This exhibition later travelled to Graz, Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum and Dusseldorf, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf.
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Lot Essay

'My grey monochromes have the same illusionistic implications as my landscapes. I want them to be seen as narratives - even if they are narratives of nothingness. Nothing is something. You might say they are like photographs of nothing' (G. Richter quoted in M. Kimmelman, 'Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms', in The New York Times, 27 January 2002).

Grau is one of the earliest of Gerhard Richter's 'Grey' paintings, dating from 1970 and forming part of a group that included another work of the same title now held in the Kunstmuseum, Bonn. The importance of Grau is clear from the fact that it has formed part of two legendary contemporary collections: the Ulbricht Collection, Dusseldorf and that of the publisher Bernd F. Lunkewitz, renowned for assembling a formidable array of works by Richter in particular. Grau perfectly encapsulates the incredible balance between inscrutability and sensuality that underpins the greatest of Richter's 'Grey' paintings, and indeed his greatest works. From a distance, this appears to be a monochrome canvas, yet on closer inspection, a wealth of swirling movements is discernible. The brushstrokes form rich eddies as they undulate across the canvas, evidence of Richters own formidable energies in creating this picture. In some parts, the grey cedes dominance to bluish hues that add a layer of variety to the picture's appearance; likewise, it is far from flat. Instead, the brushstrokes often feature rich impasto, with glistening troughs and peaks protruding from the surface of the canvas.

It was only two years earlier, in 1968, that the genesis of Richter's grey monochromes had come about, and it had done so in a particularly destructive form: disappointed with some of his figurative works, he had painted over them, an act of negation that resulted in pictures which echoed his grey-scale colour charts from 1966. Within a very short time, Richter had perceived the incredible variety and potential that existed within these 'Grey' pictures: their nihilistic origins had been transcended as the original destructive act had resulted in a lush abstract painting. Even here, he realised, the human eye could discern beauty and quality. He therefore embarked upon a further exploration of grey works, exploring the potential of the monochrome to investigate the same paradoxes of painting in the modern world which had initially led him to his Photo Paintings.

Richter's Photo Paintings had begun with the realisation that reproducing in oil paint a photographic image of Brigitte Bardot could result in a picture that probed the entire nature and purpose of painting in the contemporary world. Having been raised in East Germany and educated in Socialist Realism before escaping to West Germany, Richter had initially been beweildered by the iconoclastic power of abstract painting, which appeared to render his training as a figurative artist obsolete. His Photo Paintings had highlighted the process of painting itself; it is this that drives Grau too, as is evident from the incredible variety that he has managed to eke out within the deliberately constraining parameters of the monochrome. Those parameters were themselves stretched by Richter, who created grey pictures using a variety of techniques, sometimes using his fingers to create his 'Inpaintings' where blocks of colour were mixed together to create an overall grey appearance, sometimes applying grey directly to the canvas, sometimes pushing blocks of white and black into each other to achieve greyness, and sometimes shunning brushes and instead using other implements to manipulate the paint surface, prefiguring his later famous adoption of the squeegee as a tool.

The use of grey in Richter's monochromes was in part a taunt and repudiation of much of the rest of the art world. From a distance, Grau might be mistaken as a conceptual cousin of, say, the IKB is of Yves Klein or the Achromes of Piero Manzoni, as well as the Minimal aesthetic that had recently come to the fore. 'The grey pictures were done at a time when there were monochrome paintings everywhere,' Richter has explained. 'I painted them nonetheless... I thought I had every right to do it because I was doing it for a different reason, because the paintings have something different to say and also look different' (G. Richter quoted in D. Elger & H.U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 178). It is on the closer inspection of the surface that the difference to which Richter alludes becomes apparent: where those works all removed the specificity of the artist's own interventions from the surface, Richter has turned that aesthetic in upon itself, creating something that is emphatically painterly. Looking at Grau, we understand Richter's decision to show his works to Robert Ryman while visiting New York with Blinky Palermo that year. In Grau, Richter has painted the canvas with the gusto of an Abstract Expressionist yet the result appears Minimal; the grey appearance of the result is an intellectual challenge to both schools. The turbulent surface, with its criss-crossing brushstrokes highlighted by the monochrome, is a sensual indicator of Richter's continued ability to salvage and indeed celebrate painting in the age of conceptualism and abstraction. Richter has managed to deconstruct and then reconstruct the entire nature of picture-making, and to do so by embracing the deliberately inscrutable grey, elevating it, finding within its apparent limitations a wealth of signification and opportunity. After all, as he has said, 'Grey is a colour - and sometimes, to me, the most important of all' (G. Richter quoted in D. Elger & H.U. Obrist (eds.), Gerhard Richter Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 61).

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