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Abstraktes Bild

Abstraktes Bild
signed, numbered and dated '819-2 Richter 1994' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
24 x 28in. (61 x 71cm.)
Painted in 1994
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1995.
Gerhard Richter 1998, exh. cat., London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, 1998, p. 105, no. 819-2 (illustrated in colour, p. 90).
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (ed.), Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné 1993-2004, Dusseldorf 2005, p. 310, no. 819-2 (illustrated in colour, p. 272).
D. Elger (ed.), Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné, Nos. 806-899-8, 1994-2006, vol. V, Berlin 2019, no. 819-2 (illustrated in colour, p. 115).
London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: Painting in the Nineties, 1995, no. 39 (illustrated in colour, pp. 64 and 88).

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Painted in 1994, Abstraktes Bild is an exquisite work dating from the finest period of Gerhard Richter’s abstract practice. Rendered in a sumptuous palette of crimson, silver and ivory, spiked with flashes of blue, green, violet and magenta, its shimmering curtain of colour hovers before the viewer. Paint cascades down the length of the picture, flickering in vertical bands like cinematic distortion. Layers of marbled texture glint through the surface. The work was created at the height of Richter’s international acclaim, following the critical success of his career-defining retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1993. The paintings of this period capture his consummate mastery of the squeegee—his signature tool—revelling in the relationship between chance and control. Many were included in the landmark 1995 exhibition Gerhard Richter: Painting in the Nineties at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London. The present work was acquired directly from the show: other examples now reside in institutional collections including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Tate Modern, London, La Caixa Foundation, Barcelona, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Richter had come to prominence in the 1960s with his meticulous series of blurred photo-paintings. Towards the end of the decade, however—and throughout the 1970s—he began to move towards abstraction. Underpinning this shift was a conviction that both modes of picture-making made equally valid claims to reality: each was riddled with a mixture of truth and deception. The squeegee, which Richter adopted in earnest during the 1980s, brought this enquiry to new heights. Dragged over layers of wet paint, which rippled and marbled in its wake, it allowed him to liberate his hand from conscious thought, forcing him to submit to the logic of chance. It had the power to transform a figurative image into something abstract; conversely, it could invest an abstract image with traces of recognisable phenomena. Richter himself described it as ‘a good technique for switching off thinking’, elaborating that ‘consciously, I can’t calculate the result. But subconsciously, I can sense it. This is a nice “between” state’ (G. Richter, quoted in S. Koldehoff, ‘Gerhard Richter, Die Macht der Malerei’, Art. Das Kunstmagazin, December 1999, p. 20).

Ultimately, the squeegee taught Richter a profound lesson: that paint could become its own subject. While his abstract paintings might call to mind snowstorms or flowing rivers, they ultimately reveal nothing more than the traces of their own execution. This notion offered a lifeline for painting in a world that, over the course of the preceding decades, had gradually lost faith in the medium. Richter’s abstracts shared the self-referential qualities enshrined by Minimalism, while simultaneously revelling in the primal, gestural joys of pigment. Conceptually, they aligned with Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ or Donald Judd’s ‘specific objects’, yet visually they invoked the rich chromatic rhapsodies of Impressionism, Fauvism and Expressionism. They were removed from reality, yet somehow seemed to contain it; they were rich in expression, yet ultimately expressed nothing. For Richter—who famously admired the composer John Cage’s dictum ‘I have nothing to say and I’m saying it’—these works affirmed his fundamental beliefs about art-making. To him, all pictures—whether based on photographs, or born purely of free gesture—were illusions.

By the 1990s, Richter had fully harnessed the squeegee’s potential. As he enjoyed wave upon wave of professional triumph—from his first UK retrospective at the Tate Gallery, London in 1991, to the acquisition of his cycle October 18, 1977 by the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1995—his paintings became ever-more self-assured. The present work eloquently offsets structured rigour with free-flowing liberation. Its vertical and horizontal striations call to mind the bars of a grid, echoing his major Bach cycle of 1992. At the same time, any sense of certainty is unmoored by the unpredictable slippages of the squeegee, which stutters through the surface, dragging up layers of buried colour like jewels. Do hints of a landscape linger in its single blue horizon line? The work’s delicate crimson blush and dappled chiaroscuro, meanwhile, chime with the exquisite photo-painting Lesende (1994): Richter’s tender portrait of his new partner Sabine Moritz. Any hints of the figurative world, however, remain beyond the veil. Abstraction becomes reality in and of itself, seductive and ultimately impenetrable.

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