Lot 19
  • 19

Gerhard Richter

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
3,492,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Gerhard Richter
  • Venedig
  • signed, dated 1986 and numbered 606-2 twice on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 36  1/4  x 38  1/4  inches


Collection Ulbricht, Düsseldorf (acquired directly from the artist)
Achenbach Art Consulting, Düsseldorf
David Zwirner Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1994


Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf; Aalborg, Denmark, Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum; and Stockholm, Liljevalchs konsthall, Brennpunkt Düsseldorf. Joseph Beuys, die Akademie, der allgemeine Aufbruch. 1962-1987, May 1987 - January 1988, p. 331 (text)
New York, Zwirner & Wirth Gallery, Gerhard Richter - Landscapes, May - July 2004, n.p., illustrated in color


Exh. Cat., Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Gerhard Richter. Werkübersicht / Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, 1993, n.p., no. 606-2, illustrated in color
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Firenze, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2001, n.p. (text)
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Maler, Cologne, 2002, p. 433 (text)
Monika Möller, Walter Eschenbacher, Helmut Karg, and Siegfried Kaulfersch, Eds., Deutsch für die berufliche Oberstufe, Troisdorf, 2010, p. 443, illustrated in color
Hubertus Butin, Oskar Bätschmann, and Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter. Landschaften, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2011, pp. 19 and 28 (text)
Julia Gelshorn, Aneignung und Widerholung. Bilddiskurse im Werk von Gerhard Richter und Sigmar Polke, Munich, 2012, p. 125 (text)
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1976-1987, Vol. 3 (nos. 389 - 651-2), Ostfildern, 2013, p. 520, no. 606-2, illustrated in color
Hubertus Butin, Stefan Gronert, and Thomas Olbricht, Eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2013, Ostfildern, 2014, p. 90 (text)

Catalogue Note

As an exquisite confrontation between Gerhard Richter's two most prolific aesthetic modes, Venedig embodies the inarguable technical genius and comprehensive reach of his oeuvre.  Across a tranquil landscape vista composed in the artist’s unique brand of softened photo-realism, Richter endows the painterly surface with the expressive signature of his squeegee-born abstractions. Calculatedly evoking the rich artistic history of Venice in his subject, yet undermining its latent mythology with a decidedly unostentatious and quotidian view, Richter toys with ideas of illusionism in naturalistic art and the Renaissance ideal of the painted image as a ‘window onto the world’. Whilst Venedig exercises classical restraint in its calm and ordered composition, Richter propels the landscape genre into a dialogue that re-positions painting within contemporary visual culture and a world exponentially guided by new image making technologies. As such, it stands as a fundamental constituent of the artist’s longstanding thesis on the synthesis of the painted and photographic image; an emblem of his profound legacy within the history of contemporary art.

The five Venedig paintings are amongst Richter's most iconic series of landscapes. Painted between 1985 and 1986, they are situated at the peak of the artist’s conceptual engagement with painting, at a time when he took both his sfumato photo-painting method and his abstract squeegee paintings – the Abstrakte Bilder – to a mature state of resolve. Epitomized in the present work, this period crucially gave birth to a literal fusing of these two otherwise distinct genres. Richter’s Venice series was initiated with a set of three photo-realist paintings which became progressively more abstracted in their presentation of the scene. The present work is one of two subsequent works in which abstract patterns meld with and obfuscate the dreamy image beneath, representing the conceptual apex of this progression. Attesting to the importance of this conceptual turn, the present work’s sister painting resides in the collection of the Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany. Showing the soft and hazy vision of a lagoon caressed by the abstract friction of Richter’s unique mark-making technique, the present work revels in both the visceral contrast and the undeniable links between these two aesthetic modes. Expressing his ultimate probing of the relationship between reality and its representation, in Venedig Richter’s two distinct painterly styles usurp the claim to aesthetic truth previously afforded to the photographic medium that inspires him.

The mid-1980s signaled an era of significant life events for the artist, coinciding with his marriage to artist Isa Genzken and subsequent professional success for Richter. Having been offered a studio space by gallerist Rudolf Zwirner, Richter and Genzken relocated from Düsseldorf to Cologne; this period saw a solidification of Richter’s burgeoning institutional recognition. In the same year that the present work was created, Richter’s first major touring retrospective opened at the Städtisches Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf. Comprising 133 works, this exhibition subsequently travelled to the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, the Kunsthalle Bern and the Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna to much critical acclaim. Germany’s leading newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, lauded the conceptual breadth of Richter’s output, highlighting his relationship with the photographic image: “No one else has explored the potential of painting in an age of mass photography in as coolly engaged and intelligent a manner as he has, or has been as tough and ready to experiment as he is.” (Jürgen Hohmeyer, “Einfach ein Bild,” in Der Spiegel, January 20, 1986, p. 160)

Reveling in the beauty of the reflective sea lagoon, Richter undoubtedly evokes the sublime vistas of the German Romantic tradition. In the late 1950s Richter had studied in Dresden, the home of one of the most extensive collections of paintings by Caspar David Friedrich; the legendary Romantic painter has been a powerful influence for him ever since.  As such, Venedig constitutes a physical manifestation of the artist's explicit recognition of his ties to Romanticism: "We haven't yet left Romanticism behind us. The paintings from that period are still part of our sensibility." (the artist cited in Irmeline Lebeer, "Gerhard Richter ou la Réalité de l'Image" in Chronique de l'Art Vivant, No. 36, February 1973, p. 16)

                With its unique architectural splendor, Venice had long been the ultimate muse for Romantic painters from Canaletto to J.M.W. Turner. However, by disavowing the cliché views of historic sites in favor of a far less recognizable scene saturated in nature,  Richter not only recalls the specifics of the German Romantic tradition which was grounded in the landscape genre, but also provides a contemporary realism that is brought about by Richter's evocation of the camera in the photographic nature of the picture. Venedig eschews the tired grandeur of the Grand Canal and elides itself with the amateur snapshot, creating a scene that is more personal than rehearsed. Ultimately Richter balances a peculiar sense of Romanticism with what he has described as the "no style, no concept, no judgement” character of the photographic medium. (the artist cited in Peter Sager, "Mit der Farbe denken," in Zeitmagazin 49, November 28, 1986, p. 33) Indeed, Roald Nasgaard has described how Richter's employment of photographs "rescued him from the burden of inherited tradition, and from the alternative traps of the prevailing aesthetics and ideologies around him." (Roald Nasgaard in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 40) Dependent upon aperture, exposure and shutter speed, the photograph is correlated to a finite moment, much like the enactment of an abstract gesture. Yet through Richter’s inimitable painterly finesse both styles become codified as iconic and mutually beneficial modes of perceiving the world.