This work will be included in the artist's forthcoming five volume catalogue raisonné under no. 844-2, edited by Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter Archive, Dresden.
The subject of this exquisite 1997 Gerhard Richter portrait is his gorgeous young wife, Sabine Moritz. Married two years prior, the artist's intense emotion towards her radiates from this picture. He bathes his new bride's face in a warm soft light that illuminates her face and accentuates her beauty. The purity of the image, unsullied by unnecessary adornments, is pared down to an almost spiritual simplicity.
This sublime sense of atmosphere is a product of Richter's exceptional painting style. The hazy, dreamlike appearance has been a signature of his work since the 1960s, but it achieved the height of importance in his Kerze candle paintings of the early 1980s. This lightness of touch helps him to enhance the atmospheric conditions of the given situation. Like his Kerze paintings, his use of this half-light in Kopf (Skizze) creates a sensation of romanticism and spirituality. In addition, Richter's close cropping of Sabine's face lets the viewer focus entirely on her natural beauty and bask in its golden light.
Richter's training as an artist in Dresden in the 1950s was thorough and traditional. As part of his studies, he spent many hours in the city's museums studying their collections of classical art. Seen in this context, the luminous quality of Sabine's face can be traced back to Richter's early admiration for the qualities he saw in the work of Old Master portraitists, like Johannes Vermeer. Richter had long admired Vermeer's work and his frustration at not being able to paint like Vermeer even led to him to mutilate some of his own earlier works. The visual and emotional parallels between works like Vermeer's Portrait of a Young Woman (1666-7) and Kopf (Skizze) are clear to see, but in a move which demonstrates his skills and confidence as a painter, Richter updates the conventions of a very traditional form of painting with new techniques and methods to produce something which is both inherently modern and timeless.
In addition, Richter relies on the natural beauty of the subject to capture our imagination. Gone are the social clues which usually convey a person's standing. Sabine is naked or scantily clad, appears without the distractions of make-up and only her head and shoulders are revealed, giving us no clue to her location or situation.
Kopf (Skizze) is unique among the small group of portraits of his third wife as it was the only one in which Richter portrays her as an individual in her own right. His earliest portraits show her, face hidden from view, immersed in a book, seemingly unaware of the gaze of the viewer. Later portraits show her as a mother, cradling her new born son. In contrast, this 1997 painting portrays a strong, confident Sabine, free of distractions or the responsibilities of motherhood. Richter's painting is clearly an example of the male gaze at work, but the look is not objectifying. It conveys the feelings of a man who has rediscovered love, late in his life, and the depiction of his new wife is filled with a sense of enormous pleasure and almost palpable tenderness.
The undefined, flat, interior space of the background is mystically imbued with a sense of depth, brought about by the sharp chiaroscuro and play of light and shadow. The flat application of the paint emphasizes the two-dimensional nature of the smooth surface of the work and further refers to the source of the painting, which is a two-dimensional photograph. This effect is further enhanced by Richter's decision to paint directly onto aluminum, thereby enhancing the immediacy and photographic quality of the image. The resulting image leaves no room for interpretation; Richter does not give us the opportunity to read this painting in any way other than the one he intended.
Kopf (Skizze) is the only Richter portrait of Sabine ever to have come to the market. It encapsulates his belief in the inherent qualities of painting which remains at the forefront of his work. Richter's distinctive style imbues the work with a multitude of layers of mystery, devotion and an overwhelming sense of elegance. In immortalizing his new wife and the mother of his young family, this deeply personal portrait demonstrates that Richter still has all the energy and vigor that has made him one of the most compelling and internationally admired artists of modern times.