The genre of landscape painting has long held an irresistible allure for Richter, appearing in the artist’s oeuvre as early as 1963 and reemerging, often after long intervals, as a tempting vision of reality among his enigmatic Abstraktes Bilder. Persuasive affirmations of his talent as a master painter, Richter’s landscapes pay homage to the tradition of Romantic landscape painting, conjuring and conflating the ethereal light of J.M.W. Turner’s cityscapes with the unsettling serenity of Caspar David Friedrich’s sweeping, desolate vistas. Delicately rendered in sfumato brushwork and pearlescent, layered pigment, Landschaft is particularly evocative of the lush landscapes that dominate such Friedrich works as Ruine Eldena and Der Abend, thus enacting a powerful reengagement with the profound legacy of German Romanticism. Unlike these expansive panoramas, however, Landschaft is cropped close, obstructing the horizon and enveloping the viewer in a shadowy thrust of dense foliage. While this intimate perspective and the allusion to a photographic snapshot suggest a familiarity of place, the view is eerily and utterly anonymous. Questioned about his landscapes, Richter noted, “When I look out of the window, then what I see outside is true for me, in its various tones, colors, and proportions. It is a truth and has its own rightness. This excerpt, any excerpt you like for that matter, is a constant demand on me, and it is a model for my pictures.” (Gerhard Richter, transl. from "Christiane Vielhaber: Interview with Gerhard Richter," in Das Kunstwerk, No. 4, 1986, p. 43) Seeking a form that suits the rigorous conceptual and visual demands of the modern age, Richter cautiously questions the importance of the landscape within the German cultural psyche, exploring the alluring possibility of a dreamlike space between Romantic painting and modern photo-realism.
In a daring challenge to the tradition of representation that precedes him, Richter resists the urge towards figuration, instead conjuring a vision that reflects the cognitive dissonance inherent to his practice as a modern artist. Although pursued through distinct means, Richter’s Photo Paintings draw on concerns similar to those of his contemporaries Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer, both of whom pursue an artistic practice that confronts painting with the modern analysis and assault of the camera lens. Though sourced from a single image, Richter’s paintings are haunted by the boundless possibility of the pictures not painted; this fact is evidenced by the wealth of unpainted landscapes that fill the pages of Atlas, a collection of photographs, clippings, and sketches that the artist has been assembling since the mid-1960s. The subtle blurring and anonymity of the composition unifies and generalizes the motif, reverently referencing the infinite unrealized landscapes that haunt the chosen composition. In succumbing to the futility of his own project, Richter transcends his predecessors to draw closest of all to making known the unknowable: to rendering the sublime. Serene in its simplicity, Landschaft offers the possibility of the incomprehensible infinite in a single, exquisitely rendered treescape. This alluring tension has been succinctly articulated by Richter himself: “Painting is the making of an analogy for something nonvisual and incomprehensible; giving it form and bringing it within reach. And that is why good paintings are incomprehensible.” (Gerhard Richter, "Notes 1981," in Op. Cit., pp. 98-99)
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