"Landscape is so beautiful. It is probably the most terrific thing there is."
The artist cited in 'Interview with Rolf Gunther Dienst, 1970' in: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, Massachusetts 1995, p. 64
Executed in early 1985, Troisdorf ranks as one of Gerhard Richter's most captivating and serenely beautiful landscape paintings and is imperative to his historic reinvention of the genre. It exactly parallels some of his most famous landscapes, and immediately predates his highly comparable work Wiesental, housed in New York's Museum of Modern Art. Both of these paintings stem from photographs taken by Richter during a trip to the North-Rhine Westphalia region of Germany in 1984, seemingly of the same scene from different angles. Troisdorf is a vision of the sublime and a reminder of the magnificence of our world, as well as the distillation of Richter's project to translate photography into painting. Indeed, it is the mature culmination of decades of his famous photo-painting from the monumental Sky and Seascapes, to his 48 Portraits, to the celebrated Candles. Indeed, like the Candle paintings, the sensational painterly symphony of Troisdorf conjures an otherworldly atmosphere that exceeds the actual subject to become a meditative focus in itself. In a tradition from Turner to Monet to Rothko, Troisdorf asserts Richter's status as a painterly master of light. Unashamedly beautiful, it is nonetheless an iconoclastic artistic statement and one of the most eloquent essays in Richter's doctrine of painting.
Within the flawlessly composed space the sublime panorama emerges out of diaphanous veils of light, cast by countless tonal adjustments that constantly adjust the spectator's focus. Richter delicately feathers suspended pigment together with ethereal brushstrokes to achieve the subtlest chromatic variation. The flat, translucent paint film dissolves the solidity of the landscape, reaching a modulation normally only achievable with watercolour. Eliding forms and easing transitions, he unifies the surface through a broad and subtle palette. Deep greens are punctuated by slight variations of purple, and cool blue greys are complimented by warm hints of ochre. Achieving this subtlety of hue is highly important to the artist, as he has stated: "I can express my intention - what I want to make or to show, and why I like landscape so much - far better in colour" ('Interview with Rolf Gunther Dienst, 1970' in: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, Massachusetts 1995, p. 64).
With its suffusion of white light, layers of misty countryside and sublimely quiet and still atmosphere Troisdorf evokes the drama laden beauty of the German Romantic tradition and is the physical manifestation of the artist's statement that "We haven't yet left Romanticism behind us. The paintings from that period are still part of our sensibility" (the artist cited in: Irmeline Lebeer, 'Gerhard Richter ou la Réalité de l'Image' in Chronique de l'Art Vivant, no. 36, February 1973, p. 16). In the late 1950s Richter had studied in Dresden, the home of one of the most extensive collections of Caspar David Friedrich paintings, and not surprisingly he was heavily influenced by the older artist's work which epitomised the transcendental nature of the Romantic Movement. Richter's landscape excavates this precedent, and the captivating luminosity that he achieves in Troisdorf echoes the sublime aura intrinsic to the Romanticist conception of light as divine emanation.
By this time Richter's career had been a journey of creative discovery, spanning a spectrum of ostensibly antithetical but conceptually linked modes of painting. At one extreme he had painted his Colour Charts, the Farbtafel paintings, which refuted the lofty ideals of abstract colour theorists such as Josef Albers and mechanically reproduced industrial paint charts in a non-painterly, minimalist aesthetic. At an almost paradoxical extreme of subject-matter, Richter had begun landscapes with his loosely brushed, grisaille Alpen series back in 1968 and a suite of small paintings based on snapshots of Corsica, painted in 1969. He expanded these delicately brushed and overtly picturesque landscapes through the 1970s and reached perfection in the '80s. With hindsight, it is also clear that in the context of the mid 1980s it is remarkable that Richter created a work of such immense control. Dominated by the likes of George Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer and Jörg Immendorff, the era was immersed in lavish exhibitions of neo-Expressionistic painting, reflected in major exhibitions such as A New Spirit in Painting at the Royal Academy in London in 1981 and Zeitgeist in Berlin in 1982. Richter was alone in vanguard circles for daring to paint a holiday souvenir photograph, but by promoting landscape as a subject worthy of elite, avant-garde discourse he also furthered his reputation as master and confounder of historical genres.
Of course, fundamental to Richter's imagery is the interpretative layer of photography: the artist reports his subjects via the camera lens for subsequent analysis. Indeed, Richter's entire painterly enterprise engages art historical paradigms in a self-referential scheme in which photography plays a mediating role. By painting from a photograph - a readymade - Richter achieves a critical distance between himself and his subject that extends between his viewer and the subject. Richter has said how he is reliant on photographs because they have "no style, no concept, no judgement" (the artist in: Peter Sager, 'Mit der Farbe denken' in Zeitmagazin 49, 28th November 1986, p. 33), and Roald Nasgaard has described how Richter's employment of photographs "rescued him from the burden of inherited tradition, and from the alternative traps of the prevailing aesthetics and ideologies around him" (Exhibition Catalogue, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988-89, p. 40). A one-time dark-room assistant and photograph fanatic, from the outset he has been not a painter of nature, but rather a painter of photographs. Dependent upon aperture exposure and shutter speed, the photograph is correlated to light conditions fixed in a moment of time. From the early 1960s, Richter collated images from newspapers, family snapshots as well as his photographs of landscapes, which together form the epic cataloguing of source images in his Atlas. From the hundreds of photographs of landscape, Richter selected very few to transform into paintings.
Just as Friedrich worked from small plein air nature studies, Richter enlarges the amateur photograph to grand scale. Rather like Sigmar Polke's iconic raster-bild technique, through enlargement Richter exaggerates the faults in the photographic medium, exposing its inadequacies as mechanical shorthand for the act of looking. It is precisely this self-conscious pairing of photography with painterly illusionism that structures the artist's relationship to his historical predecessors. Working from a photograph, Richter dispels the Romantic conception of nature as a manifestation of the sublime existing beyond quotidian experience, pointing instead to the chemical and mechanical processes of photography as mediator. By replicating the effects of photography - such as the arbitrary cropping, the lack of variation of focus and the blur of an unsteady hand - Richter creates tension between the dispassionate, un-romantic effects of the contemporary medium and his deliberate historicism.
Landscape accounts for Gerhard Richter's place among masters of the genre from Corot and Constable, through Friedrich and Turner to Monet. When asked in 1970 why he painted landscapes, Richter replied "I felt like painting something beautiful" ('Interview with Rolf Gunther Dienst, 1970', Op. Cit.). Famously averse to deterministic ideology of any kind, the genre of landscape affords Richter a subject of indiscriminate force: certainly with Troisdorf he demonstrates an astute appreciation for the beauty of nature. However, despite their ostensibly uncontroversial appearance, the landscapes remain steadfastly challenging. With a self-conscious combination of dispassionate assessment and subjective editorship, Richter has analysed urban, land, sky and seascapes as relayed through the photographer's lens, and by painting the photograph rather than the subject itself he posits key ideas about visual understanding. Frequently and justly cited as the greatest painter of this era, Richter has committed the fifty years of his extraordinary career to interrogating the nature of perception: visual, emotional, psychological. Despite its serene appearances, Troisdorf is as polemical as any of Richter's greatest works, demonstrating critical detachment in a beautifully lyrical dialect. His sfumato technique dispels any sense of melodrama and precludes empathy on behalf of the viewer, enhancing instead our awareness of the inadequacy of the painted and photographic mediums to render lived experience. Lost in the painterly time of the canvas itself, in Troisdorf we are faced with questioning the very nature of representation.
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