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Ohne Titel (Untitled)

Ohne Titel (Untitled)
signed and dated ‘29.9.89 Richter’ (lower right)
oil and watercolour on paper
59 7/8 x 40 ¼in. (152 x 102.3cm.)
Executed in 1989
Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich.
Private Collection, Germany.
Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1992.
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.
Further details
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter Archive, Dresden.
Sale room notice
Please note that the medium for this work is oil and watercolour on paper, and not as stated in the printed catalogue.

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Lot Essay

Standing among the largest and most exquisite examples of Gerhard Richter’s oils on paper, Ohne Titel (1989) is a rare work dating from the height of the artist’s abstract practice. Across its expansive, kaleidoscopic surface, rich tones of red, orange, yellow, green and blue collide in hypnotic layers, offset by gleaming passages of white that part ways to reveal a symphony of colours beneath. Textures crest and fall like a natural terrain, demonstrating the artist’s sophisticated command of his signature squeegee tool. Held in the same private collection for the majority of its life, and unseen in public during that time, the work stems from an important moment that saw Richter take his place on the international stage. Following the success of his first American touring retrospective the previous year, he launched himself into what is widely considered to represent his finest creative period, seeking ever-more ambitious ways of envisioning the relationship between abstraction and figuration. Works on paper such as the present played a vital role in these continued explorations: others are housed in museum collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Kunstmuseum Winterthur.

By the time of the present work, Richter had been making his free Abstraktes Bilder (Abstract Paintings) for almost a decade. Following on from his greyscale photo-paintings, colour charts and other works of the 1960s, the artist had turned to gestural abstraction during the mid-1970s, proposing that it yielded just as ‘truthful’ a representation of reality as figurative painting. The two modes, he suggested, were intricately connected—all art, for him, was a kind of abstraction in the sense that it offered a fundamentally fictitious window onto the world. Richter believed that a photorealist painting was as far removed from nature as an abstract one: both offered glimpses of recognisable phenomena, yet neither could fully reconcile the distance between reality and its image. Thus, while the present work conjures ripples in the water, or dappled sunlight through the trees, it ultimately holds such suggestions just beyond our reach. ‘Abstract pictures are fictive models,’ explained Richter, ‘because they make visible a reality that we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can postulate’ (G. Richter, 1982, quoted in D. Elger and H-U. Obrist (eds.), Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 121).

The present work bears witness to Richter’s rich use of the squeegee: an implement he had first explored during the early 1980s. This, for the artist, was a transformative discovery—dragged over layers of still-wet paint, it created unpredictable, marbled collisions of colour that allowed him to play with the relationship between chance and control. ‘Consciously, I can’t calculate the result’, Richter explained. ‘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). By the end of the 1980s, Richter had already made important strides with this method, giving rise to notable series including the ‘London Paintings’ (1987) and the Eis (Ice) cycle (1989), whose frosty, crystalline surfaces are anticipated in the present work. The painting’s sense of verticality, moreover—with fissures that seem to run the full length of the surface—might be seen to foreshadow the celebrated Wald (Forest) series, produced the following year.

Working on paper allowed Richter to paint more freely than on canvas—the artist described the process as ‘more impulsive’, yielding ‘more intimate’ results that were ‘closer to your feelings’ (G. Richter, ‘Interview with Anna Tilroe’, 1987, reproduced in D. Elger and H-U. Obrist, ibid., p. 192). Though he famously distanced himself from the transcendental, emotive rhetoric employed by his Abstract Expressionist forebears, such statements indicate the deep, visceral connection he felt with his creations. Richter’s use of colour and texture certainly tap into this ancestry, evoking the works of Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. At the same time, the present painting seems to look back even further, recalling the vivid chromatic experiments of Claude Monet and the Fauves—artists who were among the first to envisage nature in near-abstract terms. Here, Richter’s rich, jewelled tones dance and glitter like light refracted through a prism; as the critic Robert Storr wrote, ‘It is hard to think of him as anything other than one of the great colourists of late twentieth-century painting’ (R. Storr, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat. Museum of Modern Art, New York 2002, p. 70).

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