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Property from a Private Chicago Collection

Abstraktes Bild

Abstraktes Bild
signed, inscribed and dated '836-3 Richter 1996' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
18 ¼ x 20 1⁄8 in. (46.4 x 51.1 cm.)
Painted in 1996.
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Chester A. Frank, New York
His sale; Christie's, New York, 4 June 1998, lot 174
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
P. Pelzer and G. Tosatto, Gerhard Richter 100 Bilder, Cantz 1996, p. 130 (illustrated).
Gerhard Richter, exh. cat. London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, 1998, pp. 95 and 107 (illustrated).
A. Zweite, Gerhard Richter. Catalogue Raisonné 1993-2004, New York, 2005, p. 277 (illustrated).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter. Catalogue Raisonné Volume 5, Nos. 806-899-8, Berlin, 2019, p. 196 (illustrated).
New York, Marian Goodman Gallery, Gerhard Richter, October-November 1996.
France, Carré d'Art, Museé d'Art Contemporain de Nîmes, Gerhard Richter: 100 Paintings, June-September 1996, p. 130 (illustrated).

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Allison Immergut
Allison Immergut AVP, Co-Head of Day Sale

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Lot Essay

“The abstract works are my presence, my reality, my problems, my difficulties and contradictions.” Gerhard Richter, 1985

Featuring a serene and otherworldly gradient of green-yellow punctuated by vertical swaths of Richter’s signature squeegee technique, Abstraktes Bild is a superlative example from Richter’s career-defining series reverberating on an intimate scale. In the present work, Richter manages to create a mirror-like surface that evokes watery depths, the banks of a secluded, forest pond, and the striations of precious gems and minerals. Glimmers of vibrant yellow shine through an impossibly smooth mossy gradient at center. The concentration of green-yellow soon flows into tantalizing ravines of effervescent pink and purple shades, unearthed by Richter’s vertical squeegee. The ethereal, atmospheric gradient of Abstraktes Bild combined with its intimate scale make this painting distinctly powerful.

Although the painting is resolutely abstract, the richness of its colors and the intensity of its mystical depths conjures up the sublime, awe-inspiring paintings of the great German Romantics, such as Caspar David Friedrich. The present work is particularly exemplary in demonstrating how control and accident can coalesce to produce something striking and masterful. As in Richter’s greatest paintings, prolonged viewing of this work rewards the beholder. The luminous open center of green and yellow ripples with life, inspiring a wistful reverie and contemplation of the majesty of the natural world.

The artist’s interest in the arts came in the aftermath of World War II. As a young man he was encouraged, especially by his mother, to foster his creativity. Photography and drawing were his early outlets, but he did not begin his formal art studies until 1951. After decades of inventing and reinventing his personal style and technique, he began his highly celebrated Abstraktes Bild series in 1991. The present work perfectly captures Richter’s approach to abstract painting which gained him critical acclaim at the climax of his career – one that is organic and unplanned. In his words, “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 2010, p. 312). After painstakingly layering thick coats of paint in unexpected colors, Richter would then drag his squeegee across before the paint dried, revealing a surprising and gem-like undercoat. This revolutionary technique was especially significant. During a time when mass reproduction questioned the practicality of painting, the Abstraktes Bild series and Richter’s innovative technique signified the unequivocal magic of gesture and execution, underpinning the intricacy and inimitability of each abstract work.

The German art historian Dieter Elger, writing in 2009, has further explained the phenomenon of Richter’s technique. He writes: “For Richter, the squeegee is the most important implement for integrating coincidence into his art. For years, he used it sparingly, but he came to appreciate how the structure of paint applied with a squeegee can never be completely controlled. It thus introduces a moment of surprise that often enables him to extricate himself from a creative dead-end, destroying a prior, unsatisfactory effort and opening the door to a fresh start.” Indeed, the artist himself explained further, "It is a good technique for switching off thinking. Consciously, I can't calculate. But subconsciously, I can sense it. This is a nice 'between' state,” (D. Elger & G. Richter, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, trans. E.M. Solaro, Chicago & London, 2009, p. 251).

Richter's abstract paintings often defy clear interpretation, and the present work is no exception. Through adding and subtracting, painting and erasing, Richter intuitively conjures his compositions, allowing each painting to reveal itself through this physical process. Rather than giving them descriptive titles, Richter simply labels each painting as "Abstraktes Bild" (or "abstract picture") followed by their chronological number in his list of works – a practice he has maintained since 1963. Despite this, Richter's resolutely abstract paintings consistently evoke something beyond themselves, something profound and vibrant, steeped in the essence of life and the natural world. In the past, a similar effect was achieved by the late work of Impressionist painter Claude Monet. After 1912 his eyesight declined significantly, which manifested itself in his work. His plein-air landscapes became heavily abstracted, and although they looked less true-to-life, he still masterfully captured the essence and magnificence of his garden in Giverny. Monet’s use of abstraction was unintentional, but for his Abstraktes Bild series, Richter was completely intentional in his methods, capturing the essence of an emotion exclusively through color and technique.

This sensation is possibly further emphasized by similar paintings created a few years earlier between 1989 and 1990, which are titled after natural elements like "Forest," "Ice," and "Rock." Richter explained, "They bring to mind natural experiences, such as rain, for instance. The paintings naturally evoke these feelings, and that's where their impact lies, in their continuous reminder of nature..." (G. Richter, as quoted in D. Elger & H. Ulrich Obrist, eds., Gerhard Richter: Text, Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London, 2008, p. 186).

Gerhard Richter is a legend of twentieth century abstract painting, and he has continued innovating and evolving into the late stages of his career. He repeatedly discovers the endless possibilities of his medium, taking the action of painting to new, unexpected places. Abstraktes Bild is a neon-hued shining star from the climax of his career, alive with Richter’s creative power which reverberates into the twenty-first century.

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