Lot 23
  • 23

Gerhard Richter

3,500,000 - 4,500,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Gerhard Richter
  • Abstraktes Bild
  • signed, dated 1988 and numbered 679-4 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 48 by 40 1/8 in. 122 by 102 cm.


Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York
Stephen and Marsha Berini, Santa Monica
Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in October 1999


Newport Beach, California, Newport Harbor Art Museum, Devil on the Stairs: Looking Back on the Eighties, April - June 1992


Angelika Thill, et al., Gerhard Richter: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962 - 1993, Vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, n.p., no. 679-4, illustrated in color (additionally mistakenly as no. 679-5)
Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and travelling), Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, p. 136, note 17 (text)
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 4, Nos. 652-1-805-6, Ostfildern, 2015, p. 181, no. 679-4, illustrated in color


This work is in excellent condition. Extremely close inspection reveals a faint 2-inch horizontal hairline crack towards the right edge approximately 10 inches up from the lower right corner. A scattered network of hairline drying craquelure is noticeable under raking light and very close inspection in the lower right of the bottom right quadrant. Under ultraviolet light there are no apparent restorations. This canvas is framed in a metal strip frame with a small black float.
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.

Catalogue Note

"They are complex visual events, suspended in interrogation, and fictive models for that reality which escapes direct address, eludes description and conceptualization, but resides inarticulate in our experience."
Roald Nasgaard, Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 110

“In Richter’s work there is a demonstration of the ways in which painting’s resources are constantly replenished by the very problems it seems to pose, both for the painter and the viewer. Nobody in our own time has posed them better or solved them more inventively than Richter.”
Glenn D. Lowry, Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Gerhard Ricther: Forty Years of Painting, 2002, p. 7

Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild from 1988 is an outstanding, visually arresting example of the artist’s revered body of abstract paintings. The present work is spectacular in its display of a complex interplay of color as the dominating yellow veil of paint both obscures and exposes entrancing glimpses of bright reds, greens, pinks, and blues underneath. This riveting color application and manner of concealing and revealing results in a dense layering of composition which serves as relic of Richter’s thoughts and processes as he brought the painting to life. Created at the start of Richter’s seminal 1988-1992 period of production, during which his Abstrakte Bilder realized new heights of sophistication and excellence, the present work displays the pinnacle of the series’ strength.

Texture, color and structure are deployed in Abstraktes Bild with spectacular force and sensitivity to engender a seductive painterly synthesis, visually aligned to an exquisite and strikingly atmospheric evocation of the sublime. Across the primed vastness of this empty canvas and with the great traction and drag of a hard-edged spatula, Richter streaked and smeared passages of semi-liquid material, fusing and dissecting wide tracts of oil paint. The shadows of the medium’s former malleability are caught now in a perpetually-dynamic stasis; cast as staccato ridges, crests, and peaks of impasto that punctuate an underlying fluidity in variously pronounced chromatic contrast. This creates a powerful sensation of depth. The extreme textural topography inspires an actual dynamism in the nature of the object, which constantly transforms with our shifting perspective and an ever-changing play of light across it. What is near and what is far becomes indefinite and our eye is forced to constantly readjust to attempt to comprehend the pure assault of pictorial data. Additional scrapes, smudges, and incisions in all directions carry us forward and back, beyond even the furthermost reaches of color and pigment in a way reminiscent of Fontana’s slashes and scything deconstruction of the picture plane into the infinity of space beyond. The sum of all these accretions and reductions, of Richter’s tireless process of addition and subtraction, is a record of time itself within the paint strata: the innumerable layers of application and eradication have left their traces behind to accumulate and forge a portrait of temporal genesis.

As outlined by Benjamin Buchloh: “[I]f the ability of color to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely its always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships, there can’t be any harmonious chromatic order, or compositional either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the color system or the spatial system.” (Benjamin Buchloh, ‘An Interview with Gerhard Richter’ in Benjamin Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts, 2009, pp. 23-24) Much like a palimpsest in its layered surface and repeated working over, the present work resembles a restless confluence of many paintings at once. The exuberant strata of paint bear the ghosts of previous accretions and color juxtapositions applied, erased, remade and obliterated over again. Richter's cumulative technique depends on the random nature of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has himself explained, "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture...I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." (the artist interviewed in 1990, in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, Eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 36)  With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of the present work becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality.

Gerhard Richter’s unprecedented art of abstraction stands as ultimate culmination to the epic journey of his career, during which he has ceaselessly interrogated the limits of representation, the nature of perception and the operations of visual cognition. Variously evoking something of Monet’s translation of his garden at Giverny, Rothko’s exuberance of transformative color, Kline’s structural expressionism, Pollock’s instigation of autonomous composition, and de Kooning’s transferal of the figural to the abstract, Richter’s abstraction is ultimately without comparison.