Lot 14
  • 14

Gerhard Richter

12,000,000 - 18,000,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Gerhard Richter
  • Abstraktes Bild
  • signed, dated 1991 and inscribed 744-3 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 78 3/4 by 63 in. 200 by 160 cm.


Galerie Liliane & Michel Durand-Dessert, Paris
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in 1991)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Paris, Galerie Liliane & Michel Durand-Dessert, Gerhard Richter, September - October 1991, 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. 744-3, illustrated in color
Dietmar Elger, ed., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1988-1994, Vol. IV, Ostfildern, 2015, p. 378, no. 744-3, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1991, Gerhard Richter’s masterful Abstraktes Bild manifests the strident and unparalleled achievement of Richter’s intellectual inquiry into abstraction—an investigation that reached its mature zenith surrounding the period of this work’s creation during this pivotal year. Belonging to a hallowed body of large-scale Abstrakte Bilder executed in 1991, this towering painting delivers a breathtakingly symphonic and utterly enveloping field of pigment that is dazzling in its execution and riveting in its chromatic complexity. Simultaneously concealing and revealing spectacular accents of red, yellow and blue primaries, a sublime ivory veil of lusciously viscous white oil paint flows laterally across the canvas like a storm of snow surging across the geological strata of a cliff face. The present work sits at the chronological apex of the period when the artist’s creation of monumental essays in abstraction reached new heights and the long, hard-edged spatula became the central instrument of Richter’s technical practice. Continuing the Twentieth Century’s legacy of erasure and radical reduction as a mode of interrogatory image-making – at once redolent in the work of early Modernists such as Mondrian and Malevich, through to Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism – Richter’s Abstrakte Bilder confront the contemporary currency of painting against a prevailing doubt over its artistic claims to ‘truth’. It is with this meta-dialogue in mind that the present work is utterly without parallel in Richter’s oeuvre. Evoking the lush surfaces of artists such as Robert Ryman and Willem de Kooning, Richter here negotiates fields of stunningly vibrant color against the reductive purity of white, resulting in a deeply worked composition that interrogates the limits of color altogether. Where Richter has unwaveringly voiced his criticism of Modernist abstraction’s transcendent idealism, this painting embodies an explicit confrontation and recapitulation of this particular abstract modality. It is this harnessing of contrast that allows Richter’s surface to positively shimmer. In the words of Roald Nasgaard, “The character of the Abstract Paintings is not their resolution but the dispersal of their elements, their coexisting contradictory expressions and moods, their opposition of promises and denials. They are complex visual events, suspended in interrogation, and fictive models for that reality which escapes direct address, eludes description and conceptualization, but resides inarticulate in our experience.” (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 110) Acquired directly from Galerie Liliane & Michel Durand-Dessert the year of its execution, Abstraktes Bild remained in the same distinguished private collection for decades.

As a spectacular torrent of brilliant white paint courses horizontally across the canvas, both covering and uncovering strata of bold crimsons, gold, and cerulean, Abstraktes Bild ranks among the most intense and pristinely resolved examples of Gerhard Richter’s hallowed corpus of abstract paintings. Streaked and smeared tides of once-semi-liquid material have been fixed on the surface; the shadows of their former malleability caught in a perpetually dynamic stasis. Staccato ridges, crests and peaks of brilliant white impasto punctuate this underlying fluidity, creating a powerful sensation of depth and perspectival space through the lens of Richter’s trademark abstract vernacular. In the present work, Richter navigates a thrilling tension between the crisp monochromatic white that sweeps across the surface and the intricate layers of vivid primary colors excavated from beneath the veil of his squeegee. Benjamin Buchloh has identified a perennial relationship between absence and content in Richter’s abstract paintings, so that any evocation of nothingness or the void is immediately counteracted by unrelenting complexity and turbulence, as exemplified in the present work: "the ability of color 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 composition either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the color 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) Within its sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture, this painting emits an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognizable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution readily evokes natural phenomena, deriving at least part of its effect from a spontaneous naturalism. Evocative of color theories that Neo-Impressionists such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac utilized to create vibrating painted surfaces, the continually varied tonality and intensely numerous variations of contrasting hues within each inch of the canvas create an intensely unstable perceptive field. This coloristic harmony and lyrical resonance broadcast an evocative atmosphere of density and chaos, while the interplay of hues and the complex smattering of thick impasto invite the viewer to look both at and through the laminas of material. We become immersed in color and movement as if confronting a natural phenomenon of the sea or sky. 

Forming a conceptual keystone of his oeuvre since the late 1960s, Richter’s iconic Abstrakte Bilder have performed a prolifically sustained philosophical enquiry into the medium of painting and the foundations of our contemporary visual understanding. In the present work, the interchangeability of light and dark hues in front and behind, respectively in unified swathes and broken accretions, results in an extreme textural topography. The nature of the object, subject to our vision, constantly transforms with our shifting perspective and an ever-changing play of light across it. What is near and what is far becomes indefinite and our eye is forced to constantly readjust to attempt to comprehend the pure assault of pictorial data. Additional scrapes, smudges, and incisions in all directions carry us forward and back, beyond even the furthermost reaches of color and pigment in a way reminiscent of Fontana’s slashes and scything deconstruction of the picture plane into the infinity of space beyond. The sum of all these accretions and reductions, of Richter’s tireless process of addition and subtraction, is a record of time itself within the paint layers: the innumerable levels of application and eradication have left their traces behind to accumulate and forge a portrait of temporal genesis. Richter's technique affords an element of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has 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." (the artist interviewed in 1990 in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern, 2004, p. 36) With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of the present work becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality. Indeed, Richter’s creation necessitated a conscious suspension of the artist’s artistic will and assertion of judgment. Over a protracted period of execution, the painting underwent multiple variations in which each new sweeping accretion of paint brought new juxtapositions that were reworked until the optimum threshold of harmonious articulation was achieved. Yet Richter holds no presuppositions in the devising of his abstract paintings: in his own words it is by “letting a thing come, rather than creating it – no assertions, constructions, formulations, inventions, ideologies” that Richter looks “to gain access to all that is genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding.” (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes 1985’ in Hans-Ulrich Obrist ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, p. 119) Indeed, as formulated by Birgit Pelzer, Richter’s abstract works prove that which cannot be articulated: “Richter’s painting explores the enigmatic juncture of sense and non-sense. His paintings encircle, enclose the real as that which it is impossible to say: the unrepresentable.” (Birgit Pelzer, "The Tragic Desire" in Benjamin D. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts, 2009, p. 118)