Lot 16
  • 16

Gerhard Richter

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 GBP
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  • Gerhard Richter
  • Garten
  • signed, dated 1982 and numbered 515 on the reverse of the lower canvas; numbered 515 on the reverse of the upper canvas
  • oil on canvas, in 2 parts
  • 260 by 200 cm. 102 3/8 by 78 3/4 in.


Galleria Pieroni, Rome

Baron Léon Lambert, Brussels

Christie’s, London, 3 July 1987, Lot 1164

Achenbach Art Consulting, Dusseldorf

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1987


Rome, Galleria Pieroni, Isa Genzken, Gerhard Richter, April - May 1983, n.p., illustrated in colour; and n.p., illustrated (installed in Isa Genzken, Gerhard Richter)

Edinburgh, Edinburgh City Art Centre, European Art Inc.: Selected Works from Leading Corporate Collections Within the European Community, December 1992 - January 1993, p. 38, illustrated in colour


Jürgen Harten, Ed., Gerhard Richter: Bilder 1962-1985, Cologne 1986, p. 275, illustrated

Angelika Thill et al., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, n.p., no. 515, illustrated in colour 

Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1976-1987, Vol. III, Ostfildern 2013, p. 318, no. 515, illustrated in colour

Mario Pieroni and Dora Stiefelmeier, Eds., Galleria Pieroni: 1970-1992, Spoltore 2016, p. 229, illustrated in colour 


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the green background is lighter and brighter in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"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

Gerhard Richter’s Garten is an essay in colour; an astounding work that perfectly evinces the artist’s inimitable ability to variegate texture, timbre, tone, and hue in order to create paintings of stunning quality and astounding complexity. The present work is spectacular in its display of a complex interplay of colour as veils of vibrant crimson and deep opulent black paint enchantingly permit the viewer tantalising glimpses of extraordinarily verdant greens, yellows, and blues underneath. This riveting colour 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. As with some of the artist's most famous abstract paintings of the 1980s, the present work does not have Richter's generic Abstraktes Bild title and instead was given a specific name owing to its aesthetic effect: Garten. Indeed, the hot saturated palette and rich verdant greens of Garten certainly evoke the bright colours of a floral garden in full bloom. As Richter explains: “We only find paintings interesting because we always search for something that looks familiar to us. I see something and in my head I compare it and try to find out what it relates to. And usually we do find those similarities and name them… When we don’t find anything, we are frustrated and that keeps us excited and interested” (Gerhard Richter in conversation with Robert Storr, in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, 2002, p. 304). Heralding from 1982, it also marks an important ontological milestone in Richter’s oeuvre, charting the journey of his praxis from photorealist exactitude into abstract splendour. Executed on an astounding scale as a profound monument to the enduring power of painting and as an altar to the supremacy of colour, Garten professes a transcendent aesthetic uniquely bound to the act of painting and its physical constitution.

In the first two decades of his mature practice Richter had established an unimpeachable reputation as a photorealist painter of utmost skill. It was only between 1980 and 1987, during which time the present work was created, that he focused his energies on the creation of a vibrant corpus of works that radically reconfigured the aesthetic capacities of abstract painting. This shift in depictive styles ran in direct opposition to the contemporaneous popular art discourse, which had been dominated by Pop art and Minimalism while Richter was preoccupied with precise figuration, and which moved towards the kind of aesthetically aggressive figurative painting propagated by artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Georg Baselitz in the early 1980s whilst Richter focused on abstraction. Thus, at each stage of his career Richter was able to carve out his own critical space and assert his own aesthetic identity. Richter’s abstract works from the 1980s and beyond cannot be seen as a reprisal of any previously established mode of artistic communication. Particularly when compared to the wild and immediate mark-making of his Neo-Expressionist contemporaries, the mode of depiction propagated in works such as Garten denotes his peerlessly methodical inquiry into the absolute limits of abstraction in the painted arts.

Richter’s genius lies in his unique ability to contrast alternate painterly modes and tonalities. In the present work, geometric fields of vivid pigment are juxtaposed with paroxysmal yet purposeful marks, and blurred gradation is met with scraped veils of diaphanous colour, resulting in a canvas rife with limitless magnetism and supreme power. Executed on the cusp of his full espousal of the squeegee as a decisive painterly tool, the present work recounts Richter’s movement away from experimentation with anti-painting – as defined by the Farben (Colour Charts) and Grau (Grey Paintings) – and instead explores the phenomenological limits of colour by indulging in a vibrantly energetic abstract compositional mode. Evocative of colour theories that Neo-Impressionists such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac utilised to create vibrating painted surfaces, the continually varied tonality and intensely numerous variations of contrasting hues within each millimetre of the canvas create an intensely unstable perceptive field. Richter’s surrender to the laws of chance also allows for abrupt disruptions to otherwise flowing transitions of colour – in this case outbreaks of violent monochrome red and canary yellow. Thus a new sense of layered depth is instilled by the inherent incongruity of the contrasting colours that are layered over one another. Like feedback interruptions to radio signals these momentary blips to the visual field conjure uniquely enigmatic presences that shatter confidence in our own perceptive capacities. Indeed, in the present work Richter achieves transparency and opacity, solidity and depth, in an ocularly stimulating space that is both physical and cerebral.

As outlined by Benjamin Buchloh: “[I]f the ability of colour 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 colour 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). 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" (Gerhard Richter cited 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 as a defining trait of its execution, the present work becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality.