Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Property From An Important California Collection
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)

Cythera Skizze

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Cythera Skizze
signed, titled, numbered and dated 'Richter 1986 CYTHERA-SKIZZE 591-1' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
39½ x 55 in. (100 x 140 cm.)
Painted in 1986.
Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Private collection, Zurich, 1987
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, London, 6 February 2003, lot 15
Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Abstrakte Malerei aus Amerika und Europa, exh. cat., Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Vienna, 1988, p. 121 (illustrated).
B. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter: Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné, 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, p. 179, no. 591-1 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

The lot will be included in the forthcoming third volume of the Gerhard Richter. Catalogue raisonné, edited by the Gerhard Richter Archive, Dresden, to be published in Spring 2013.

"When we describe a process, or make out an invoice, or photograph a tree, we create models; without them we would know nothing of reality. Abstract pictures are fictive models, because they make visible a reality that we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can postulate" (G. Richter quoted in B. Buchloh, Gerhard Richter, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2009, p. 121).

Of all Gerhard Richter's painterly styles, which range from detailed representation to monochromatic minimalism, the artist finds his multicolored, abstract paintings to be his most authentic renderings of reality. Cythera Skizze demonstrates Richter's embrace of pictures that are, in his words, "polychrome and complicated." In a diverse vocabulary of painterly marks, Richter opens up his process and calls attention to each layer of colored paint. By highlighting the fundamentally concrete aspects of the picture, Richter strives to "erase the pictorial object's function as an illustration of reality and to replace it with the picture's own reality" (J. Nestegard, Gerhard Richter: Det Umuliges Kunst, Malerier 1964-1998, exh. cat., Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, 1999, p. 45).

Richter begins Cythera Skizze by seamlessly blending gradients of lemon yellow, cadmium red and ultramarine to represent an indistinct sunset against a shadowy horizon. In contrast to his smooth background, Richter adds thick, gestural strokes of red and blue, flecks of yellow and trails of white that dissipate and reappear across the canvas. The artist applies each pigment in a distinct gesture and direction to expose the paint in all its unruly, animated materiality. Richter describes his process as a type of calculated chaos: according to Richter, the "smooth, soft-edged paint surface is like a finished picture; but after a while I decide that I understand it or have seen enough of it, and in the next stage of painting I partly destroy it, partly add to it; and so it goes on at intervals, till there is nothing more to do and the picture is finished the whole thing looks very spontaneous. But in between there are usually long intervals of time, and those destroy a mood. It is a highly planned kind of spontaneity" (G. Richter, quoted in H.U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, London, 1995, p. 112).

Richter's intimate understanding of his medium's physical properties allows him to freely experiment with painterly marks. In 1980, the artist first incorporated the squeegee, which he loaded with paint and pulled across the surface of the picture. Unable to fully control the irregular patterns that it produced, Richter used the squeegee to surrender his control as a subjective author and integrate consequence. Though Richter uses the tool to distance himself from the composition, the yellow flecks express their own intense force and movement. Above the yellow streaks, a single sliver of blended paint creates an abrupt rift in the smoothly painted landscape. As he interrupts the even background, he simultaneously references a tangible reality that traditional representational styles are unable to capture. The artist persuasively declares the superiority of his painted, abstract gestures by fully obscuring the illusionistic ground painting. The smooth background in Cythera Skizze is still visible, yet barely comprehensible. The work's prolific gestural strokes emphasize the surface tactility and present the paint itself as Richter's true subject matter.

Richter's worked-over surface and infinite variety of color and structure express the painter's never-ending, constantly re-evaluated effort to represent a truthful reality. His lyrical arrangement of rich, potent colors is further poeticized by the artist's romantic title, Cythera, after the Mediterranean island where Aphrodite was born. The artist often named his works with mythic titles to align them with art-historical precedents. In fact, Cythera Skizze's title and abstract style draw parallels to Richter's large-scale 1983 commissions for the Berlin U-Bahn, Juno and Janus, named after the Roman gods. In this 1986 painting, Richter's title recalls Watteau's The Embarkation for Cythera, which depicted subject matter that rejected classification into the prescribed categories of the time, prompting the naming of a new genre of landscape painting, fête champêtre. Similarly, Richter pushes the boundaries of representation in Cythera Skizze by delineating his layered, gestural strokes with powerful physical immediacy.

In Cythera Skizze, gesture, and its expressive mark on the canvas, is no longer a gauge for the artist's emotive involvement, while color no longer represents intelligible chromatic relationships; instead, they mean "from now on and again the simulacrum of spiritual space" (B. Buchloh, 'Richter's Facture Between the Synecdoche and the Spectacle,' Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 1985, p. 9). In spite of its bright colors and animated application of paint, Cythera Skizze possesses an unexpectedly contemplative tone, evoked by Richter's painted expressions of invisible and veiled realities. Richter's continual investigation into the representation of reality is shown in Cythera Skizze, which reconciles spontaneous strokes with methodical layers, corresponding each coat of paint to a further level of realism.

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