- Gerhard Richter
- Frauenkopf im Profil
- titled on the stretcher; signed and dated 16.III.66 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
Collection H. Schott, Frankfurt (acquired from the above in 1968)
Christie’s, London, 23 October 1997, Lot 92 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Frankfurt, Portikus, On Kawara – Wieder und Wider, March - April 1989
Exh. Cat., Bonn, Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, n.p., no. 80-11, illustrated
Susanne Ehrenfried, Ohne Eigenschaften: Das Portrait bei Gerhard Richter, Vienna and New York 1997, p. 189, illustrated
Dietmar Elger, Ed., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1968, Vol. I, Ostfildern 2013, p. 195, no. 80-11, illustrated in colour
Between 1962 and 1968 Richter persued a portrait practice based exclusively on media-derived and family photographs. Seeking to explore the ambiguity that exists between the alleged objectivity of a photograph and the inherent artifice of painting, he chose to use photographic source material rather than paint from life. He aspired to imbue his paintings with the impartial and factual documentation inherent to photography, in order to convey an image free from predisposed interpretation or meaning and a painting free from individual artistic expression. With a paradigmatic blurring of contours and drained of any colour, the portraits exemplify Richter’s deliberate choice of a monochrome palette, which he attributed to the objective subtlety of the colour grey. According to Richter, “grey is the welcome and only possible equivalent for indifference, non-commitment, absence of opinion, absence of shape” (Gerhard Richter cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, 2003, p. 62).
In line with the early paintings of gallerist Alfred Schmela, or many subsequent commissioned portraits, such as those of the collector Willi Schniewind or Dr Gisela Knobloch, the subtly faded contours of the present work leave the sitter slightly out of focus. The source image for Frauenkopf Im Profil can be found among the photos on the first sheet in Atlas, the artist’s picture archive, now in the collection of the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich. An intimate snapshot of a young woman with her back turned and covering herself with a white towel, the familiarity of the portrait invokes the inherent sentiment of an old family photograph. As is the case in many of these early paintings, including Ema, Nude Descending a Staircase and Lovers in the Forest, a certain sensuality and eroticism is evoked. Similar to Ema, in Frauenkopf Im Profil this is underlined by the graceful, elegant pose of the model, which here gazes seductively over her bare shoulder.
With its carefully blurred surface and subtle grey-scale, Frauenkopf Im Profil oscillates between figuration and abstraction. Confronting the viewer with an unknown sitter, it elicits the artist’s primary aspiration of exploring the dualities and dichotomies of the painted medium and is a transcendent paradigm of Richter’s acclaimed photo-paintings. Exceptional on account of its early date and its flawless execution, the work’s ethereal beauty carries an underlying intellectual rigor that helped re-define contemporary painting, as well as conceptual artistic genres.