Lot 12
  • 12

Gerhard Richter

400,000 - 600,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Gerhard Richter
  • Grau
  • signed, dated 1974 and numbered 362/4 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 40 by 37 3/4 in. 101.6 by 95.9 cm.


Galleria Chisel, Genoa
Private Collection
Christie's, London, December 4, 1996, Lot 57
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Mönchengladbach, Städtisches Museum Mönchengladbach; and Brunswick, Kunstverein Braunschweig, Gerhard Richter. Graue Bilder, December 1974 - March 1975 (Brunswick only)


Exh. Cat., Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Gerhard Richter. Bilder/Paintings 1962-1985, 1986, pp. 182 and 385 (text)
Exh. Cat., New York, Marian Goodman Gallery and Sperone Westwater, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1987, pp. 5-6 (text)
Exh. Cat., Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Gerhard Richter. Werkübersicht / Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, 1993, n.p., no. 362-4, illustrated
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Maler, Cologne, 2002, p. 449 (text)


This painting is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at +1 (212) 606-7254 for the report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is not framed.
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

Painted in 1974, Gerhard Richter’s mesmeric Grau is a paradigm of the artist’s iconic series of Grey Paintings. Occupying an enigmatic midpoint between the polarities of light and dark, this painting broadcasts a wistful sea of muted grey over which Richter’s brush weaves shimmering waves of subtle texture. Across the monochromatic and seemingly opaque surface of Grau, with its dense refusal of tonal variation, Richter composes a profoundly subtle ocular ballet. Quiet instances of light and shadow dance across the painted surface, creating tone and form within an empty and colorless field.  As a crucial extension of both his preceding Color Chart paintings and the calculated mark-making of his early photorealist works, Grau also shows Richter working at his most reduced state – a minimal ground in which he interrogates the connotative capacities of the painted medium. As such, this important work manifests his invaluable, conceptual expansion of the medium.

Richter began his exploration of grey in 1967, starting with a set of three canvases that contrasted rectangles of varied grisailles tones. By 1968 he began working on what can be seen as the conceptual end point of this enquiry with a style exemplified in the present work.  Each of the Grau paintings utilize a single and unique mid-grey tone, applied with individually stylized brushwork. Richter evokes the spiritualistic engagement with unvariegated pigment that was pioneered by Yves Klein’s monochromes and the International Klein Blue; however, by reverting to a vacant and unemotional mid-grey, Richter abets any visceral reaction. Enlivening the work with captivating brushwork he instead considers the medium’s essential ontology, free of color or representation. Born in Dresden in 1932, Richter’s personal history was inevitably marred by the Nazi movement and their pillaging of the art historical canon. With the pain of rigorous ideology and symbolic didacticism haunting him since his youth, the artist’s conceptual journey entailed separating painting from the weight of social or political associations.  He desired to focus his viewer’s eye on the wonder of the pure image rather than its reference. This profoundly honest plight finds its apotheosis in the Grau paintings.

In grey Richter saw the neutrality of photography that remains the most important influence on his representational practice. As the artist noted: “Grey. It makes no statement whatever; it evokes neither feelings nor associations: it is really neither visible nor invisible. Its inconspicuousness gives it the capacity to mediate, to make visible, in a positively illusionistic way, like a photograph. It has the capacity that no other color has, to make 'nothing' visible.” (Gerhard Richter, Gerhard Richter: Text, Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 91) Whilst grey overwhelmed early photography, in naturalistic figurative painting often it has taken a secondary role, connoting shadow if anything at all.  Composed of black and white, which both lack the vivaciousness of color, Richter takes grey as a ground to explore absence. The artist has commented further on these paintings: “I want them to be seen as narratives - even if they are narratives of nothingness. Nothing is something. You might say they are like photographs of nothing.” (the artist cited in Michael Kimmelman, "Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms," The New York Times, January 27, 2002) As such, the present work is part of Richter’s greatest challenge within painting: to allow the finished canvas to stand alone without subject matter or tonal form.  Like a clouded mirror that defies its original purpose, Grau does not reflect an external reality, but rather creates an entirely cohesive reality of its own.