Zehn Farben (Ten Colors) is one of the very first of Gerhard Richter's Color Chart paintings. Using a number of paint samples that he acquired from a paint factory, Richter used this industrial lacquer paint to create on canvas what seems to be an industrial paint chart. Painted in 1966 and representing a dramatic departure from his grey-tone photo-paintings, these Color Charts are both a Minimalist form of painting that closely relates to Pop Art and, at the same time, a caustic assault on the lofty pretensions of much Abstract Expressionist painting. An objective and real way of painting with color without subscribing to any ideology, they are copies after nature, at the same time they are abstract paintings that are self-knowingly meaningless.
Richter has admitted as much when he explained that to some degree the Color Chart paintings reflected his "desperation of not knowing how I could ever arrange colors meaningfully" and the result of trying "to fabricate that, as beautifully and as unequivocally as possible." (Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, ed. Hans-Ulrich Obrist, London, 1995, p. 141). At the same time, this cold objectivity and meaninglessness - the same as can be found in a real color chart in a paint shop - pointedly reveals the emptiness of much of the ideological and mystical claims made by many contemporary abstract painters for their own colored squares and rectangles, whose popularity, in the mid-1960s, was then at its height.
Since 1966, Richter has returned to painting color chart paintings throughout his career, but the very first ones, such as Zehn Farben were, he has explained, closely related to Pop Art. 'They were copies of paint sample cards," he has explained, "and what was effective about them was that they were directed against the efforts of the Neo-Constructivists, Albers and the rest. (They were) an assault on the falsity and religiosity of the way people glorified abstraction, with such phoney reverence. Devotional art - all those squares - Church handicrafts" (Ibid, p. 141).