3 More
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE GERMAN COLLECTION

Wolkenstudie (grün-blau) (Study for Clouds (Green-blue))

Wolkenstudie (grün-blau) (Study for Clouds (Green-blue))
signed and dated 'Richter 1971' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
31 1/2 x 39 3/8in. (80 x 100cm.)
Painted in 1971
Galerie Denise René Hans Mayer, Dusseldorf.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1982.
Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., Venice, XXXVI Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte - La Biennale di Venezia, German Pavilion, 1972, p. 42, no. 277 (illustrated, p. 73; dated '1970').
J. Harten and D. Elger (eds.), Gerhard Richter Bilder: Paintings 1962-1985, exh. cat., Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 1986, p. 377, no. 277 (illustrated with incorrect orientation, p. 124; dated '1970').
Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ed.), Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné: 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, p. 161, no. 277 (incorrectly illustrated as no. 279; dated '1970').
D. Elger (ed.), Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné, Nos. 198-388, 1968-1976, Vol. II, Berlin 2017, p. 238, no. 277 (illustrated with incorrect orientation; dated '1970').
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.
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Interim Acting Head of Department

Lot Essay

Held in the same private collection for four decades, and never before seen in public, Wolkenstudie (grün-blau) (Study for Clouds (Green-blue) (1971) is a rare masterwork from Gerhard Richter’s celebrated series of cloudscapes. An extraordinary feat of technical and conceptual virtuosity, it poses as a sublime window onto the outside world: an exquisite, photorealist vision of deep green and blue sky tinged with radiant golden beams. With meticulous brushstrokes, the artist captures the diaphanous play of light and shadow across his celestial vista, creating a profound illusion of infinite depth. Simultaneously evoking and subverting the language of Romanticism, Richter’s cloudscapes played a pivotal role in his journey from photo-painting to abstraction, asking vital questions about painting’s purpose at a time when its future seemed uncertain. The present work stands among the most accomplished paintings in the series, taking its place alongside examples held in the Museum Folkwang, Essen, the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn.

Begun in 1968, and pursued at various intervals until 1979, Richter’s cloudscapes represent some of his most important and sophisticated painterly enquiries. It was during this period that the artist began to broaden his creative horizons, moving away from his early greyscale works and beginning the long and complex journey towards the Abstraktes Bilder (Abstract Paintings) that would define his oeuvre over the following decades. In his photo-paintings, his choice of subjects became increasingly ambiguous, eschewing the portraits and quotidian scenes of his earlier output in favour of more ephemeral motifs—clouds, seascapes and aerial cityscapes. In tandem with these works, Richter embarked upon a rigorous deconstruction of painting’s essential properties, sequencing colour, form and texture in his Farbtafeln (Colour Charts), Rot-Blau-Gelb (Red-Blue-Yellow) and Grau (Grey) series. Collectively, these investigations would help to establish the guiding principle of his oeuvre: namely, that abstraction and figural representation were two sides of the same coin, each as fictitious and volatile as the other. For Richter, clouds were a direct embodiment of this duality—by their very nature, they expressed the dance between concrete reality and optical illusion that would drive his practice over the ensuing years.

Aside from their formal properties, Richter’s choice of clouds as a subject was grounded in his dialogue with art history. In the wake of the Second World War, many artists had lost faith in the painting’s truth claims; more still would abandon their allegiance to the medium amid the rising tides of Minimalism and Conceptualism. By selecting motifs so deeply ingrained in German Romantic discourse—dramatic skies, rolling seas and vast, sprawling vistas—Richter sought to throw some of these issues into relief. On one hand, the present work is suffused with all the sublimity and grandeur of paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, who purported to bring his viewers face to face with the awe-inspiring majesty of nature. At the same time, the painstaking, deliberate construction of the work’s surface places us at a distance: the closer we get, the more its promise of transcendence recedes from our grasp. In the fluctuation between Romantic hope and postmodern doubt, Richter sketches out a world in which the two might exist side by side—one in which painting, for all its historical baggage, might illuminate the contradictions and complexities of our own condition.

It was this stance that would ultimately allow Richter to take his first steps towards painterly abstraction. The characteristics of his Abstract Paintings—hazy, layered, marbled and blurred—are latent in the present work, where form, texture and colour intermingle freely. Later that decade, Richter produced his first ‘soft abstracts’—he would later submit to the chance effects of the squeegee, sweeping it across layers of wet paint to create unpredictable collisions. By the time of the present work, the artist had already cultivated a rich sensitivity to tone and hue: Wolkenstudie (grün-blau) moves seamlessly from passages of deep, saturated azure to areas of subtle luminosity and variegation, wrought with the deliquescence of a Constable landscape, a Turner watercolour or one of Monet’s waterlily ponds. Such lessons would inevitably feed into his Abstract Paintings, which—in turn—frequently came to resemble the shifting patterns and colours of the sky.

For all its abstract tendencies, the present work equally retains a sense of objective physical reality that plays against its effervescence. Like a Baroque ceiling mural, it conjures a very real portal to the natural world—a veritable slice of sky sealed forever upon the wall. Richter himself, incidentally, had started his career as a muralist, and in 1971 began to draft designs for a series of rooms filled with monumental cloudscapes. ‘That is a such a dream of mine’, he explained, ‘—that the picture will become an environment or become architecture’ (G. Richter, quoted in D. Dietrich, ‘An Interview’, Print Collector’s Newsletter, September/October 1985, p. 130). The following year, Dieter Honisch described how his paintings evoked ‘windows leading into the beautiful world; they bring us the idyllic, dramatic and elegiac response to our emotional desire; they carry it into the showroom, right through the wall in front of which we are standing’ (D. Honisch, Gerhard Richter, Essen 1972, p. 11). This visceral, trompe-l’oeil effect makes the double-edged nature of the cloudscapes all the more poignant: so convincing is their Romantic illusion that—in certain lights—their subversive undertones are barely permitted to surface.

In this regard, writes Richter, the promises of the past remain within our sight. ‘A painting by Caspar David Friedrich is not a thing of the past’, he has explained. ‘What is past is only the set of circumstances that allowed it to be painted: specific ideologies, for example … It is therefore quite possible to paint like Caspar David Friedrich today’ (G. Richter, quoted in Gerhard Richter Landscapes, exh. cat. Sprengel Museum, Hannover 1998, p. 12). Laced with a mixture of nostalgia, loss and yearning, the present work holds faith and scepticism in perfect tension. Though posing as a window, it ultimately functions as a mirror, reflecting our innate desire to believe the fictions presented to us through painting. ‘For us, everything is empty’, explained Richter. ‘Yet, these paintings are still there. They still speak to us. We continue to love them, to use them, to have need of them’ (G. Richter, quoted in Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat. Museum of Modern Art, New York 2002, p. 68). At a time when painting seemed consigned to history, the artist made a powerful case for its endurance: in Wolkenstudie (grün-blau) we are momentarily permitted to step into a more beautiful world, even in the knowledge of its artifice.

More from 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale

View All
View All