Lot 8
  • 8

Gerhard Richter

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Gerhard Richter
  • Abstraktes Bild
  • signed, dated 1986 and numbered 593-8 on the reverse 
  • oil on canvas
  • 120 by 80 cm. 47 1/4 by 31 1/2 in.


Achenbach Art Consulting, Dusseldorf

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1986  


Angelika Thill et al., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, n.p., no. 593-8, illustrated in colour; and n.p., no. 593-10, illustrated in colour (incorrectly illustrated upside down)

Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1976-1987, Vol. III, Ostfildern 2013, p. 497, no. 593-8, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is deeper and richer 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

Chromatically arresting and compositionally complex, Abstraktes Bild from 1986 is a veritable masterclass in tone and texture from Gerhard Richter’s iconic corpus of abstract paintings. Derived from a body of nascent abstractions created between the years of 1980-85, the present work announces a decisive break and undeniable landmark achievement; from 1986 onwards Richter would relinquish any planned compositional elements of form and structure in favour of the haphazard scrape and stutter of the ‘squeegee’. Waging a battle between the squeegee and the brush, vertical veils of paint present a riposte to the diagonal drag of wide brushstrokes, both of which are punctuated by finer and more angular linear accents in the present work. The result is a mesmerising field in which painterly elements both jostle against and complement each other while the paint’s chromatic value injects this piece with an undisputed power. Diffusing opulent crimson with acidic yellow and verdant greens, Abstraktes Bild imparts a chromatic explosion that consumes and envelops the viewer with its brilliance. Heterogeneous and multifaceted, the present work perfectly exemplifies Richter’s extraordinary early body of Abstrakte Bilder in which the artist pioneered a collapse of the photographic and the painterly.

Although bursting with endless tonal variations and illusions of infinite space, Abstraktes Bild nonetheless negates the kind of transcendental sacred image space that was so famously pioneered by Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and perhaps most apt for the present work, Franz Kline. Magnificent in its magical celebration of colour, an experience of unbridled structure and boundless chromatic affect is nonetheless disrupted and offset by an enshrouding stasis. 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 it’s 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’ (1986), in: Benjamin Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Cambridge 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 glorious vibrant veils of paint bear the strata of previous accretions and colour juxtapositions applied, erased, remade and obliterated over again. Such chromatic and compositional negations represent Richter’s rebuttal of the bold idealism of 1950s abstraction: "Pollock, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, their heroism derived from the climate of their time, but we do not have this climate" (Gerhard Richter cited in: Michael Kimmelmann, ‘Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms’, The New York Times, 27 January 2002, n.p.). Richter's climate was that of the photographic image, a climate that has come to define and shape his entire practice. 

Abstraktes Bild witnesses the full induction of the squeegee as the principal compositional agent, recalling Richter's very first foray into painting with his magnificently blurred Photo Paintings. This in turn invited the means through which Richter was able to instigate “photography by other means” (Gerhard Richter cited in: Kaja Silverman, Flesh of My Flesh, Stanford 2009, p. 173). As redolent in Abstraktes Bild, the sheen of immaculate colour and endless permutations mimic the aesthetic of a cibachrome print, while a distinctly photographic quality is compounded by the out-of focus consistency of the sweeping accretions of paint. Evoking a blurred, half-seen or remembered image, and imploring the same cognitive viewing experience as his photo works, the hazy coagulation of endlessly scraped pigment forms an extraordinary riposte to the canon of abstraction via the photographic, mechanical, and the aleatory. Within the sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture this painting emits an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognisable evocations. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution induces a reading of phenomenological forms associated with those found in nature. Readily evoking natural phenomena such as rain or water erosion, the abstract works derive their effect from a spontaneous naturalism. Where Richter’s Photo Paintings fall away into abstraction, the Abstrakte Bilder return us to a suggestion of illusion.

Richter’s utterly extraordinary and pioneering art of abstraction stands as the ultimate culmination of the heroic journey of his career, during which he has endlessly questioned the limits of representation, the nature of perception, and the operations of visual understanding. Variously evoking Rothko’s exuberance of transformative colour, Kline’s structural expressionism, and Pollock’s instigation of autonomous composition, Richter’s abstraction is entirely without comparison. The simultaneous negation and affirmation of contingency, expressivity, detachment, and transcendence comprises an encompassing host of contradictions that posit this painting as an essay in calculated chaos and the perfect example of Richter’s insurmountable artistic achievement.