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

Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Painting)

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Painting)
signed, numbered and dated '448/1 Richter, 1979' (on the reverse)
oil on board
26 x 35cm.
Painted in 1979
Lucio Amelio Collection, Naples.
Galleria Mario Pieroni, Rome.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1980.
D. Elger and J. Harten, Gerhard Richter: Bilder 1962-1985, Cologne 1986, p. 221, no. 448/1.
Gerhard Richter. Bilder 1963-1986, exh. cat., Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 1986, p. 391.
B. Buchloh, Werkübersicht Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Bonn 1993, p. 171, no. 448-1.
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné 1976-1987, vol. 3, Ostfildern 2013, pp. 19, 154, no. 448-1.
New York, Sperone Westwater Fischer, Gerhard Richter, 1980.
Rome, Galleria Mario Pieroni, Gerhard Richter, 1980.
Special notice
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.
Further details
With richly textural red impasto coursing like magma over streaked depths of green, yellow, purple, green, white and blue, Abstraktes Bild, 1979, is a jewel-like abstract composition by Gerhard Richter. Flashes of the underlying matrix of colour gleam through the rippling, opaque upper layer of red, alive with the vivid interplay between chance and design that Richter strives for in his abstract works. ‘I want to end up with a picture that I haven’t planned,’ he has said. ‘This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture. Each picture has to evolve out of a painterly or visual logic: it has to emerge as if inevitably’ (G. Richter, quoted in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago 2009, p. 312). Dating from early in his series of Abstrakte Bilder – the first were made in 1976 – the present work seems to manifest this inevitability in its very surface, which has been laid on with a palette knife in a microcosmic form of the famed squeegee technique that would reach its peak in Richter’s mid-1980s period. Where the paint of many later works is dragged with enough pressure to create a smooth final layer, here Richter appears to have lifted his tool upward from the red paint as he applied it in thick swathes, leaving an intricate texture of wrinkles, globules and rivulets that recalls the natural and geological processes of the earth. While these effects are somewhat mediated by Richter’s conscious decisions, the artist’s hand is apparently elided, and the painting takes on the beguiling, self-determined quality of a cracked riverbed, fossil sediment or cooled lava. In its palpable objecthood it echoes the densely impastoed works of painters such as Frank Auerbach and Nicolas de Staël; yet Abstraktes Bild is neither an emotionally charged portrait nor a carefully composed arrangement of shapes. Instead, it witnesses Richter’s desire 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’s Abstrakte Bilder of the 1970s marked an important turn towards colour in his practice, which had for some years been dominated by grisaille paintings. As Robert Storr has written, ‘Before Richter began painting Abstract Pictures most people would not have thought of him as a colourist, although his greys were finely calibrated and sometimes blushed with pale blue, violet, or earth tones. Since then, it is hard to think of him as anything other than one of the great colourists of late twentieth-century painting’ (R. Storr, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat. Museum of Modern Art, New York 2002, p. 70). Abstraktes Bild’s incandescent underpainting and vibrant waves of red pigment amply bear out this statement. The work’s colours are strident, complex and lyrical in their beauty; the saturated yellow cuts through the web of red like sunlight, and the sombre warmths of mauve and teal offset the red’s bright rawness.

The hand-painted strokes of Abstraktes Bild’s primary layer reflect an evolution from Richter’s very earliest Abstrakte Bilder, which began with him meticulously copying areas of gestural Art Informel paintwork. Manifesting his scepticism of abstraction’s emotive power, here he was painting pictures of gestural brushstrokes rather than making the ‘real thing’, and seducing the viewer with optical splendour while deliberately deceiving the eye. Paintings such as the present work show the gradual obliteration of this illusionistic first stage, making the transition to works that are themselves gestural and loaded with paint. While he remained uncomfortable with the transcendental ideas accorded to much Abstract Expressionist painting – ‘there was a kind of science fiction coming from Rothko’s darkness that was Wagnerian or had a narrative side, which bothered me’ (G. Richter, quoted in M. Rosenthal, ‘Interview with Gerhard Richter’, Mark Rothko, exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. 1998, p. 364) – Richter’s attitude would later soften, allowing that abstraction can be judged on a certain psychological resonance. ‘Abstract paintings are fictitious models because they visualize a reality, which we can neither see nor describe, but which we may nevertheless conclude exists’, he would reflect in 1988. ‘We attach negative names to this reality; the un-known, the un-graspable, the infinite, and for thousands of years we have depicted it in terms of substitute images like heaven and hell, gods and devils. With abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can be neither seen nor understood’ (G. Richter quoted in R. Nasgaard, ‘Gerhard Richter’, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, exh. cat. Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1988, p. 107). Replete with chromatic and tactile energy, Abstraktes Bild is a brilliant glimpse into this abstract realm: at once opulent and austere, Richter’s profoundly intelligent painting transcends imagery and illusion to show us an entire new universe.

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Lisa Snijders
Lisa Snijders

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