Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)

Kleine Sekretärin (Little Secretary)

Details
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Kleine Sekretärin (Little Secretary)
signed, numbered and dated 'Richter II.65 80-21' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
18¾ x 14¼in. (47.4 x 36.1cm.)
Painted in 1965
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1965.
Literature
J. Harten and D. Elger (eds.), Gerhard Richter: Bilder 1962-1985, exh. cat., Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 1986, p. 362, no. 80/21 (illustrated, p. 36).
Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ed.), Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné: 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, p. 151, no. 80-21 (illustrated, unpaged).
H. Friedel (ed.), Gerhard Richter: Atlas, Cologne 2006, (source image illustrated, p. 24, pl.5).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, Nos. 1-198, 1962-1968, vol. I, Ostfildern-Ruit 2011, no. 80-21 (illustrated in colour, p. 202).
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.

Brought to you by

Annemijn van Grimbergen
Annemijn van Grimbergen

Lot Essay

‘Warhol showed me the modern way of letting details disappear or at least he validated its possibilities. He did it with silkscreening and photography, and I did it through mechanical wiping. It was a very liberating act’ — G. Richter

‘I am not trying to imitate a photograph; I’m trying to make one … I’m not producing paintings that remind you of a photograph. I am practicing photography by other means’ – G. Richter

Painted in 1965, acquired directly from the artist, and not seen in public since, Kleine Sekretärin (Little Secretary) is one of the great early photo-paintings of the mid-1960s in which Gerhard Richter conceptually redefined the idea and validity of the painted image and set it against the backdrop of day-to-day bourgeois life in post-War West Germany. This radical and pioneering series of so-called ‘Capitalist Realist’ paintings deliberately celebrating the ordinary and mundane aspects of Bundesrepublik life were also the works that established Richter alongside his friend and Capitalist Realist colleague Sigmar Polke as one of the leading exponents of German Pop Art.

Focusing on images drawn from technically faulty photographs, everyday advertisements and other ephemera culled from the popular German media or, in rare cases, such as in Kleine Sekretärin perhaps, from personal photographs, Richter consciously sought in these works to incorporate the unique language and perceived veracity and authority of photography into what, in the 1960s, was the largely discredited world of figurative oil painting. ‘I am not trying to imitate a photograph; I’m trying to make one’, Richter said of these paintings, ‘I’m not producing paintings that remind you of a photograph’, he insisted, ‘I am practicing photography by other means’ (G. Richter, ‘Interview with Rolf Schön’, in 36 Biennle, Venice 1972, exh. cat, Folkwang Museum, Essen, 1972, p. 23).

Kleine Sekretärin is a work that elegantly reinforces this claim. Based upon a seemingly unremarkable image of a young secretary seated behind her modern, functional desk, it is a familiar image of a 1960s German woman in the contemporary workplace that could be one of thousands. It is precisely this familiarity that Richter has sought to celebrate, copying the image faithfully from a photograph that was most probably in his personal possession, and including its white borders in his painted image so that his painted canvas, like a photograph, becomes, self-evidently, an object of reproduction. It becomes, in fact, a picture/object that, in the same way as a photograph, contains a believable, albeit demonstrably fictive, representation of reality. In a move that further opens up the paradoxical nature of the illusive and artificial nature of the reality presented and the supposedly ‘truthful’ representation that a photograph is believed to convey, Richter has deliberately confused the issue by blurring the copied photograph’s image in the manner of a smeared or blurred photograph. Such blurring was a deliberate move on the part of the artist intended to further emphasise the artificial construction of all that we see in a picture. This aspect of the work is underlined by the way in which Richter has contrasted the extremely fine and delicate blurred grey tones of this painting with a thick, heavily brushed and strongly material use of strips of brilliant white to create the photo-painting’s borders.

Deeply conscious of Hannah Arendt’s phrase, ‘the banality of evil’, that in 1960s Germany had especial resonance in a country desperately trying to mask its nightmare past behind the façade of bourgeois normality, Richter attempted in paintings such as Kleine Sekretärin to emphasise, through such demonstrable layering of fictions, the potential for horror that hides behind the mask of such ordinary appearance. ‘Banality means a little bit more than unimportant,’ Richter pointed out to Robert Storr in 2002, ‘I mentioned “the banality of evil” in order to show that banality has at some point been described as something horrific... I’ve already said some time ago that in order to disassociate myself from Francis Bacon, I didn’t have to distort faces. It is much scarier to paint people’s faces as banal as I find them in photographs. That is what makes the banal more than just banal…(I make an image in a way that is) ...modest. Very small and quiet…I hope it functions like that. That something is heard although it approaches quietly. That was my hope. That was the trick’ (G. Richter, ‘Interview with Robert Storr,’ in Gerhard Richter Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002, p. 294).

It is this ‘small and quiet’ quality that Richter asserts in the photo-painting Kleine Sekretärin and which he emphasises through the blurring of its imagery. Richter has said that he blurs ‘things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant... so that they do not look artistic or craftsman-like but technological, smooth and perfect...to make all the parts a closer fit... [and perhaps remove] ... the excess of unimportant information.’ (G. Richter, ‘Notes 1964-65,’ in H.-U. Obrist (ed.), The Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, p. 37). Talking to Robert Storr in 2002, he also pointed out that, to some extent, this was also an approach he adapted from Warhol’s example. ‘I believe that the quintessential task of every painter in any time has been to concentrate on the essential. The hyperrealists didn’t do that: they painted everything, every detail. That’s why they were such a surprise. But for me it was obvious that I had to wipe out the details. I was happy to have a method that was rather mechanical. In that regard I owe something to Warhol. He legitimized the mechanical. He showed me how it was done. It is a normal state of working, to eliminate things. But Warhol showed me the modern way of letting details disappear or at least he validated its possibilities. He did it with silkscreening and photography, and I did it through mechanical wiping. It was a very liberating act’ (G. Richter, ‘Interview with Robert Storr,’ in Gerhard Richter Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002, p. 295).

More from Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

View All
View All