Lot 19
  • 19

Gerhard Richter

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Gerhard Richter
  • Abstraktes Bild
  • signed, dated 1997 and numbered 840-2 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 67 by 93.8cm.
  • 26 3/8 by 37in.


Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Private Collection, Norway
Sale: Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Day Sale, 2 July 2008, Lot 222
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter, 1998, no. 840-2, illustrated in colour


Armin Zweite, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1993-2004, Düsseldorf 2005, no. 840-2, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate. Condition: This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent under ultra violet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Articulated in breathtaking tonal shades of red, blue and vivid magenta, Abstraktes Bild from 1997 exhibits a mastery of Gerhard Richter’s abstract methodology. While belonging to a mere handful of works on canvas created during this year – the majority of the Abstrakte Bilder from 1997 are small scale works painted on Alu Dibond – this painting also draws a significant parallel with the two monumental canvases numbered 849-2 and 849-3 in the artist’s Catalogue Raisonné. With the former housed in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the latter was recently donated to The Israel Museum, Jerusalem by long-term friend and patron Lily Safra in memory of her husband, Edmond J. Safra, a renowned philanthropist and one of the Museum’s greatest benefactors. Previously this painting held the record price at auction for any living artist when it was sold as part of the distinguished single owner collection, Abstraction Figuration at Sotheby’s, New York in November 2011. The present Abstraktes Bild numbered 840-2 prefigures these two colossal abstractions: the striking chromatic and formal correlation suggests this painting bears a formative importance in the later execution of the aforementioned masterworks. The extraordinary depth of colour and gossamer layering posit a perfection of Richter’s painterly dexterity. Indeed, these works stand at the very apex of Richter’s creative enterprise, bringing to a close a decade of intense abstract exploration with the squeegee. Embodying a masterpiece of scaled down proportions, Abstraktes Bild delivers a superlative equilibrium between illusion and allusion, erasure and construction, veiling and revealing.

Since the very outset of his career during the early 1960s, Gerhard Richter has called into question the conceptual underpinnings of painting and representation. Now considered the greatest artist living today, Richter’s career long conceptual project has ushered in the practice of painting as a legitimate critical dialogue firmly established in the Post-Modern canon. Navigating a systematic trajectory of incredibly disparate but thematically related painterly approaches, at once including his formative Photo Paintings, Stadtbilder, Colour Charts, and the monochrome Grau Paintings, Richter’s career represents a cumulative inquiry into representation and abstraction in paint as marked by the stamp of our increasingly media saturated contemporary age. Positioned at the vanguard of this continuing project are the Abstrakte Bilder. As forcefully illustrated by the present work, Richter’s exploration into the field of abstraction stands distinct from both the formal and chromatic sparseness of minimalism, and the impassioned or emotive gestures of abstract expressionism. Rather, evoking the aesthetic blur of photography and immaculate cibachrome lamina of the print, Richter’s semi-automated procedure of repeatedly drawing tract-like layers of paint across the canvas with the squeegee incites a harmonic yet compositionally discordant painterly equilibrium. Achieved via a balance of contingency and agency, these works represent fraught palimpsests of Richter’s battle with painting as an independent autonomous entity.

In his notes from1990, Richter gave consummate expression to the intensely exigent dialectic between his agency as an artist and this unpredictable automatism: "Accept that I can plan nothing. Any thoughts on my part about the 'construction' of a picture are false, and if the execution works, this is only because I partly destroy it, or because it works in spite of everything–by not detracting and by not looking the way I planned… My only consolation is to tell myself that I did actually make the pictures–even though they are a law unto themselves, even though they treat me any way they like and somehow just take shape. Because it's still up to me to determine the point at which they are finished... If I look at it that way, the whole thing starts to seem quite normal again–or rather nature-like, alive." (Gerhard Richter, 'Notes 1990' in: Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Eds., Gerhard Richter: Text, London 2009, p. 247). Painting in this way renders definitive compositional planning utterly redundant; rather, Richter's actions and critical Yes/No judgements invite a compelling visual dialogue with chance, total indeterminacy and ultimately the ordered chaos of Nature itself.

At once, Richter's corpus of abstraction is inimitably challenging, esoterically dense yet strikingly beautiful. Emanating from a deep and clear understanding of the plight of painterly abstraction in its varying modalities, Richter's Abstrakte Bilder embody a nuanced and ambiguous response to such formal tensions and their contrasting histories. Akin to the repeated nihilistic erasure and its antithetical creative complement, Richter's abstraction wavers between a simultaneous negation and affirmation of the ineffability of the beyond. As commandingly propounded within the layers of arresting pigment giving way to sweeping glimmers of an entirely alternate visual plane behind a diaphanous magenta screen, Richter magnificently delivers a glimpse of the beyond: "somewhere you can't go, something you can't touch" (the artist in interview with Nicolas Serota, in Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, p. 19).