Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Gerhard Richter
signed and dated 1986 on the reverse
oil on canvas
120 by 80cm.; 47 1/4 by 31 1/2 in.
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Galerie Löhrl, Mönchengladbach
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Anne Rorimer and Denys Zacharopoulos, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, New York 1987, p.6
Angelika Thill et al., Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné, 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, no. 593-9 (incorrectly illustrated in colour)

Catalogue Note

Magnificent in scale and ambitious in scope, Abstraktes Bild is a spectacular work from Gerhard Richter’s iconic series of Abstrakte Bilder. Painted in 1986, during an immensely dynamic and positive period of the artist’s life, the joyful chromatic intensity of Abstraktes Bild appears to reflect Richter’s optimistic state of mind during a time of both domestic contentment and professional satisfaction. A glorious conjunction of vibrant hues, almost kaleidoscopic in intensity, fuses together on the canvas to form a work of arresting power and impact: seeming to dominate the space it occupies, Abstraktes Bild pulsates with a visceral energy and dynamism. A yellow of almost fluorescent intensity collides with vivid turquoise blue and verdant green, while billowing strokes of scarlet and orange are layered over contrasting colour tones. Richter employs an astonishing range of textures and methods to apply the brightly-hued pigments, revealing his virtuoso manipulation of complex techniques: calm, smooth paint surfaces vie with explosively powerful sweeps of the brush to create a veritable frenzy of painterly expression. The result is a work of magisterial authority and astounding beauty that exerts a powerfully positive impact on the emotions and reactions of the viewer and brilliantly justifies Robert Storr’s declaration that Richter is “one of the great colourists of late twentieth-century painting” (Robert Storr in Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Gerhard Richter, Forty Years of Painting, 2002, p. 70).

Abstraktes Bild is an exceptional example from the Abstrakte Bilder series, the creative potential of which had defined Richter’s practice from the end of the 1970s. Richter had sought an entirely new form of imaginative expression for several years prior to the creation of his first colourful abstract pieces, and the chromatically dazzling works - of which Abstraktes Bild can be considered a pinnacle of expression -  were a stark contrast to the sombrely hued Grau paintings that had preceded them. He begins by placing a number of white primed canvases around the walls of his studio, eventually working on several simultaneously and re-working them until they are completely harmonised. An extraordinary level of care and patience is involved in the creation of the Abstrakte Bilder: Richter applies the pigments in distinct layers by means of paint brush, palette knife or squeegee, with long pauses between each paint application so that the overall effect of the work is painstakingly considered. Tracts of colour are dragged across the canvas, so that the various strains of malleable, semi-liquid pigment suspended in oil are fused together and smudged first into the canvas, and then layered on top of each other as the paint strata accumulate.  Richter has spoken of this process: ‘…the beginning is actually quite easy, because I can still be quite free about the way I handle things – colours, shapes.  And so a picture emerges that may look quite good for a while, so airy, colourful and new. But that will only last for a day at most, at which point it starts to look cheap and fake. And then the real work begins – changing, eradicating, starting again, and so on, until it’s done.’ (Gerhard Richter cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, p. 17).

 Reflecting on the complex working process behind the Abstrakte Bilder, Richter has described his method as “a multitude of Yes/No decisions, with a Yes to end it all” (the artist, cited in Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter, A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 251). The myriad exquisite layers that make up Abstaktes Bild can be seen as an affirmation and celebration of these concerns, constructing a painting of thrilling intricacy and profundity, exceptional for the extraordinary dynamism of its palette. Ultimately Abstraktes Bild can be considered one of the most strikingly mesmerising works from the Abstrakte Bilder group: a series that is undoubtedly one of the most significant bodies of work produced by any artist in recent decades.

Contemporary Art Day Auction