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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection


signed, dated and inscribed '650-2 Richter 1987' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28 3/8 x 40 1/4 in. (72 x 102.2 cm.)
Painted in 1987
Private collection, Cologne (acquired from the artist).
Anon. sale, Phillips, New York, 18 May 2000, lot 28.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
A. Thill, et. al., Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné, 1962- 1993, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, vol. III, no. 650-2 (illustrated in color).
Weltkunst, July 2000, no. 7 (illustrated, p. 1315).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Maler, Cologne, 2002, pp. 341 and 398.
M. Jacobus, Romantic Things: A Tree, a Rock, a Cloud, Chicago, 2012, pp. 57-60 (illustrated, p. 59, fig. 2.7).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, 1976-1987, Ostfildern, 2013, vol. 3, p. 635, no. 650-2 (illustrated in color).
Sprengel Museum Hannover, Gerhard Richter Landscapes, October 1998-January 1999 (illustrated in color, p. 98).
Oregon, Portland Art Museum; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; New Orleans Museum of Art; Seattle Art Museum and New York, Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, October 2015-July 2018, p. 140 (illustrated in color, p. 141 and detail illustrated in color, p. 143).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Demonstrating the astonishing pull of nature, Gerhard Richter’s Apfelbäume is a celebrated example of the artist’s contemporary contribution to the grand tradition of European landscape painting. Picturing the haunting form of three trees veiling over a pasture of rolling hills and pale gray fog, the present work is one of only three paintings the artist completed of this subject matter, one of several quasi-Romantic subjects that he explored in the 1980s. Building on his earlier astronomical studies and seascapes, the present work represents the culmination of Richter’s conceptual engagement with the idea of landscape. Based on a photograph included in Atlas, the artist’s compendium of source images, Apfelbäume is swathed in soft muted hues of mossy green and cool silver, a choice that enhances the perception of focus embedded within the original snapshot. Here, Richter ultimately surrenders to the abstract, and in the process produces one of his most atmospheric and evocative canvases. The result becomes an investigation of painting that questions the very nature of it, both through the illusions of space it creates, and the material existence of it.
In this lifelong pursuit of painting, Richter has explored the dichotomy between reality and illusion. It was through his early body of photo-paintings, which deliberately mimicked the blurred effects of the camera, that he first came to explore abstraction: figuration, he believed, was no less deceptive than non-representational idioms. His return to photorealism in the 1980s, at a time when his abstract works were becoming increasingly complex, demonstrates his lack of distinction between the two modes. Neither free elaboration nor precise reproduction, he believed, could bridge the cavernous abyss between man and nature. Writing in 1986, Richter explained that “My landscapes are not only beautiful or nostalgic, with a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost Paradises, but above all 'untruthful' … and by 'untruthful' I mean the glorifying way we look at Nature—Nature, which in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely mindless: the total antithesis of ourselves, absolutely inhuman” ("Notes, 1986," quoted in H-U. Obrist, ed., Gerhard Richter. The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, Cambridge, 1995, p. 124). Though bathed in the glow of familiarity, the present work ultimately casts its subject matter as a distant mirage: vacant, unattainable and unheimlich, as disarming and alien as any of his abstract panoramas. As Robert Storr writes, “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” (Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002, p. 67).
Though painted in acknowledgement of the masters such as Nicolas Poussin or Caspar David Friedrich, artists who wove grandiose hymns to the majesty of nature, Richter’s landscapes ultimately disrupt such traditions. Working in the aftermath of the Second World War, which had seen the heroic narratives of German Romanticism exploited by propaganda, Richter sought to emphasize the artificial nature of all imagery. As we approach the work, its delicate pastoral exterior dissolves before our eyes, leaving us to stare at an impermeable assembly of attentive brushstrokes. Beautiful, serene and yet ultimately unyielding, Apfelbäume draws upon the early nineteenth-century aesthetics celebrating love of the soil, of the forests and of the mountains related to the sense of homeland which had been so abused by propagandists during the war years of Richter's own youth and which have informed so many of Anselm Kiefer's and Georg Baselitz's works concerning German national identity. While Richter's mountain scenes, seascapes and cloud pictures are informed by an echo of the epic that recalls a haunted past, there is also an enduring sense of nostalgic wistfulness, of contemplation, of the rolling and fertile countryside in Richter’s apple trees.
1987, the year in which Apfelbäume was painted, marks the highpoint of Richter's landscape paintings. Within these Romantic images of the German countryside, the manner in which the artist alters the distance between the trees, and changes the focus of the composition, reveals the way in which he is treating this figurative view with almost abstract intentions. It is no coincidence that 1987 was also a triumphant year for Richter's Abstraktes Bilder and that the two genres, which seem at first so diametrically opposed, should have an intense interrelationship. This is evident in the determined focus on the artist’s hand in Apfelbäume, ever so evident in the branches of the trees in contrast between the soft sfumato of pearl fog that renders the sky so enticing and ethereal as it falls over Richter’s verdant greenery.

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