Lot 49
  • 49

Gerhard Richter

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Gerhard Richter
  • Herr Mousli 
  • signed, titled and dated 68 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 87 by 67cm.; 34 1/4 by 26 3/8 in.


Bernadette Valentin-Mousli, Dusseldorf (acquired by the family of the sitter from the artist in 1968)

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1998


Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, Nos. 1-198, 1962-1968, Vol. I, Ostfildern 2011, p. 399, no. 197-8, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

With its characteristically blurred surface and elegant subtlety of monochrome grey hues Herr Mousli is a stunning paradigm of one of Gerhard Richter's most famous artistic endeavours, the revolutionary photo paintings. Both its tonal topography and technical distinction epitomise the artist’s overarching ambition to present the viewer with a new perspective of reality, highlighting his ongoing investigation into human perception and the validity of the painted image. Defiling the traditional process of portraiture by painting from a photograph instead of real life, Richter sought to imbue his paintings with the objectivity and legitimacy generally associated with the photographic medium. As he explained: “A portrait must not express anything of the sitter’s ‘soul’, essence or character. For this reason, among others, it is far better to paint a portrait from a photograph, because no one can ever paint a specific person” (Gerhard Richter quoted in: Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago 2009, p. 74). However, looking at this captivating image of Herr Mousli, a portrait commissioned by Bernadette Valentin-Mousli in loving commemoration of her late husband, one cannot help but feel a sincere intimacy emanating from Richter's painting.

Originally from Saudi Arabia M.A. Mousli left the Middle East in the early 1950s in search of a fruitful new life in Europe. Settling down in Dusseldorf, a small vibrant city often considered the mecca of Germany’s vivid post-war art world, he met his wife Bernadette. Having grown up in nearby Cologne, Bernadette was very much engaged in the cultural happenings of the time, striking up close friendships with many of the resident young artists and introducing her husband to the Rhineland’s exciting avant-garde art scene. Herein, after Mr Mousli’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1963, Bernadette chose to honor his memory in a portrait painted by one of Dusseldorf’s most promising young artists, Gerhard Richter.

Prompted by leading gallerist Alfred Schmela Richter had begun taking commissions for portraits in the early 1960s and created three paintings of Schmela as demonstrations of the different portrait styles available. With a paradigmatic blurring of contours and drained of any colour, the portraits exemplify Richter’s deliberate choice of monochrome palette, which he attributed to the objective subtlety of the colour grey. According to Richter, “grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, noncommitment, absence of opinion, absence of shape” (Gerhard Richter quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, 2003, p. 62). 

However, unlike these early painting of Schmela, or many subsequent commissioned portraits, such as those of the collector Willi Schniewind or Dr Gisela Knobloch, in which subtly faded contours leave the sitters slightly out of focus, the painting of Mousli is elusively clouded. With an ethereal, grey veil of pigment Richter suspends the traditional antithesis of the figurative and the abstract and places a layer of abstraction over the image. Staring into the distance the sitter’s physiognomy is hinted at as if through a transient glimpse. Resting his chin on his hands, which are clasped together as if for prayer, Mousli seems to be in deep thought. Witnessing this quiet moment of peace the viewer is struck by a pang of sadness. As an elegant sfumato effect bathes Mousli in a soft light, the image beckons a quiet and ghostly sense of loss and spirituality.

Attempting to capture the memory of a lost loved one, the sombre nostalgia of the portrait invokes the inherent sentiment of family photographs. Its intimacy and underlying tragedy aligns the painting to some of Richter’s most poignant family images, such as Tante Marianne and Onkel Rudi. Both the painting of his uncle Rudi, who died as a soldier in Hitler’s army, and the intimate image of Richter's 14 young old aunt Marianne, who had been interned in a mental institution by the Nazis, tell the story of wartime tragedy. Their subjects instill the works with a personal relevance and profound visceral meaning that contends Richter’s apparent objectivity.

Similarly, in the portrait of Mr. Mousli Richter’s primary aspiration of exploring the dualities and dichotomies of the painted medium is overshadowed by the intimate commemoration of a loving husband and father. Beneath the distinctive veneer of blurred grey anonymity the work is loaded with the underlying narrative of personal tragedy and exudes a profound feeling of sentimentality that leaves the viewer deeply moved.