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

Monstein

Details
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Monstein
signed, inscribed and dated 'Richter, 1981 471/1' (on the reverse); titled 'Monstein' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
39 ¾ x 59 ½ in. (101 x 151 cm.)
Painted in 1981.
Provenance
Private collection, Ratingen, acquired from the artist
Anon. sale; Sotheby’s, London, 26 March 1992, lot 50
MaxmArt, Mendrisio, Switzerland
Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York
Private collection, United States
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 10 November 2015, lot 11
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Literature
U. Loock and D. Zacharopoulos, Gerhard Richter, Munich, 1985, p. 41 (illustrated in color).
J. Harten, ed., Gerhard Richter, Bilder 1962–1985, Cologne, 1986, pp. 243 and 393 (illustrated in color).
Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, ed., Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné: 1962-1993, v. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, n.p., no. 471 (illustrated in color).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter, Maler, Cologne, 2002, pp. 258, 339, 344 and 348.
D. Elger, ed., Gerhard Richter: Landschaften, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2011, pp. 19, 26, 89 and 174 (illustrated in color).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1976-1987, v. 3 (Nos. 389–651-2), Ostfildern, 2013, pp. 226-227, no. 471 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Milan, Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Gerhard Richter, January-February 1982, p. 3 (illustrated).
New York, Luhring Augustine Gallery, Gerhard Richter: Selected Works 1963-1987, November 1995-January 1996, pp. 60-61 (illustrated in color).
Museum of Modern Art Fort Worth, Gerhard Richter: Strategies of Distance, April-July 1996, p. 61 (illustrated in color).
Sale Room Notice
Please note this painting has been requested for inclusion in the forthcoming exhibition Gerhard Richter: Landscape, being organized by the Kunstforum Wien and the Kunsthaus Zurich, which will be held from October 2020 to July 2021.

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Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

Monstein is one of just seven canvases featuring a mountainous landscape that Gerhard Richter produced in 1981. Highlighting the dramatic and haunting beauty of the Swiss Alps, the painting demonstrates the artist’s unique ability to manipulate the painted surface to evoke the power and majesty of nature. Painted while he was deep into the development of his iconic Abstraktes Bild paintings and the year before he embarked on his Kerze (Candle) paintings, another example from the series—Davos—is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. In meticulous detail, Richter skillfully translates the sublime environment of the mountain range. Using only a palette of delicate grays, he recreates the craggy mountain tops dusted with snow, and the vast emptiness of the sky, pierced only by the rays of the hazy sun. It is a masterful illusion, one which curator Dieter Honisch describes thus, “[his] pictures are windows leading into the beautiful world; they bring us the idyllic, dramatic and elegiac response to our emotional desire; they carry it into the show-room, right through the wall in front of which we are standing’ (D. Honisch, Gerhard Richter, Essen, 1972, p. 11). The artist’s technique is captivating through his use of countless tonal adjustments that constantly manipulate the spectator’s focus. As Robert Storr has observed, “the viewer is thus left in a state of perpetual limbo bracketed by exigent pleasures and an understated but unshakable nihilism. Those who approach Richter’s landscapes with a yearning for the exotic or the pastoral are greeted by images that first intensify that desire and then deflect it’ (R. Storr (ed.), Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., New York, 2002, pp. 65-66).

In this large-scale painting, the artist depicts the awe-inspiring beauty of the mountain landscape. His grisaille patchwork is created by the alternating light and dark shadows that trace across the very pinnacle of the peaks creating a sense of intrigue as mountainous crevices and gullies rise, and then fall away. But acting against traditional artistic wisdom, Richter does not solidify the sensation of magnificence by filling the canvas with the looming mountain range. Instead he merely suggests it, running just the peaks of the mountain range across the lower section of the canvas, leaving the grandeur of the hazy sky to complete the majestic scene. In addition to being rendered in Richter’s signature monochromatic hues, Monstein is imbued with a very subtle trace of warm mauve, emblematic of the atmospheric light dance that sometimes plays out at sunrise or sunset.

When asked about reasoning behind paintings such as the present work, Richter replied simply “I felt like painting something beautiful” (G. Richter, by D. Elger, ‘Landscape as Model,’ in Gerhard Richter: Landscapes, exh. cat., Sprengel Museum, Hanover, 1998, p. 12). Yet his notions of beauty do not necessarily conflate with the traditional notions of Romanticism for which German art has been celebrated. Whereas, artists like Casper David Friedrich saw the face of God in the beauty of nature, for Richter the landscape has a much more secular splendor. “Richter’s landscape paintings do not go back to any religious understanding of Nature,” writes Dietmar Elger, “for him the physical space occupied by Nature is not a manifestation and a revelation of the transcendental. In his pictures there are no figures seen from behind inviting the viewer to step metaphorically into their shoes in order to sink reverentially into some sublime play of Nature” (Ibid.). Instead, Elger argues elsewhere, “…the…landscapes are bereft of human life. The artist looks for and finds only loneliness. Here, as in the…candle paintings, the artistic mechanism of subjective appropriation and thematic displacement comes into play. Richter explores his own state of mind through a visual metaphor that he can examine from an art-historical distance” (D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: My Life in Painting, Chicago, 2002, p. 269).

In Monstein, Richter playfully subverts not only this formal language of German Romanticism, but also the visual logic of Abstract Expressionism. Indeed, in his painting, the linear division of the mountain and sky evokes Rothko’s floating fields of color, or the jagged zips of Barnett Newman’s paintings. Where Newman and Rothko’s intense fields of color deliberately invoked the abstract sublime however, Richter simultaneously introduces and denies this experience of color. As Storr has suggested, “[Richter’s] answer was to further fictionalize this science fiction, and thereby make all the artifice and suspension of disbelief explicit” (R. Storr, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002, p. 70). Three decades later, fellow German artist Andreas Gursky was to once more engage these concepts in his photographic masterpiece, Rhein II (1999), mechanically refining the image of the epic river Rhine to create a similar play on abstraction, figuration and the sublime.

Although at first they may seem to be diametrically opposed, Richter’s landscapes are important precursors to his iconic Abstraktes Bild paintings of the 1980s, as Elger explains. “Their significance derives much more from their over-riding importance within the body of Richter’s work and the consistency with which he uses them to inform other motifs—particularly his Abstract Paintings” (D. Elger, op. cit., p. 8). In the purely philosophical sense, Richter’s landscapes question the nature of painting as he intends them not be reproductions of nature, instead they are more impressions of it. “When I look out of the window, then what I see outside is true for me, in its various tones, colours and proportions. It is a truth and has its own rightness. This excerpt, any excerpt you like for that matter, is a constant demand for me, and it is the model for my pictures” (G. Richter, quoted by D. Elger, op. cit., p. 19). Therefore, despite their hyper-reality, his landscapes seem more about the painting process than they are about the view they depict “It has more reality than a photograph,” Richter explained, “because a painting is an object in itself, because its visibly hand-painted, because it has been tangibly and materially produced” Richter continues (ibid).

Richter himself admitted that “There is, for me, no difference between a landscape and an abstract painting” (G. Richter, quoted by D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Landscapes, exh. cat., Sprengel Museum, Hanover, 1998, p. 5). In this particular work, faced with the panorama, the viewer’s eye is carried through the passage of softened, almost smoky clouds, along the darkened ridges onto a distant and illusive horizon, at once inviting the viewer into the landscape whilst at the same time rendering a view that is almost unfathomable and the brushstrokes dissolve into each other. Emerging through these delicate gestures, layers of Richter’s palette creates an intense surface that radiates with enduring natural beauty.

In terms of durability, Richter’s landscape paintings are one of the artist’s most significant groups of works. Begun in 1963 and continued for over 35 years, this distinct group of ethereal scenes does much to strengthen the artist’s reputation as one of the most innovative and cerebral painters of his generation. Not only is Monstein an object of sublime beauty, it also belongs to a group of works that became one of the cornerstones of Richter’s career, as Elger concludes, “Richter’s landscapes occupy an important position within his output and there is no other genre to which he has devoted himself with such intensity and endurance” (D. Elger, ‘Landscape as Model,’ in Gerhard Richter: Landscapes, exh. cat., Sprengel Museum, Hanover, 1998, p. 6).




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