Lot 28
  • 28

GERHARD RICHTER | Gelbgrün (Yellow-Green)

7,000,000 - 10,000,000 GBP
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  • Gerhard Richter
  • Gelbgrün (Yellow-Green)
  • signed, dated 1982 and numbered 492 on the reverse of the left canvas;  numbered 492 on the reverse of the right canvas
  • oil on canvas, in two parts
  • each: 260.5 by 200.5 cm. 102 1/2 by 79 in.
  • overall: 260.5 by 401 cm. 102 1/2 by 157 7/8 in.


Galerie Konrad Fischer, Dusseldorf Collection Ulbricht, Dusseldorf

Achenbach Art Consulting, Dusseldorf

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Kassel, documenta 7, June - October 1982 New York, SperoneWestwaterFischer Gallery, Gerhard Richter, January 1983

Chicago, Marianne Deson Gallery, Gerhard Richter, May - June 1983

Dusseldorf, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Der Versuch, am Ende doch noch Spaß zu haben. Sammlung Ulbricht. Neuerwerbungen 1981-1983, September - October 1983, pp. 16-17, no. 334, illustrated in colour

Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie; Bern, Kunsthalle; and Vienna, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Gerhard Richter. Bilder 1962-1985 (Exh. Cat. and catalogue raisonné), January - September 1986, p. 258, no. 492, illustrated in colour

Barcelona, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Gerhard Richter: Atlas, April - July 1999

Karlsruhe, ZKM, Museum für Neue Kunst, KunstSammeln, December 1999 - March 2000

Baden-Baden, Museum Frieder Burda; Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland; Vienna, Albertina; and Duisburg, MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Gerhard Richter. Bilder aus privaten Sammlungen, January 2008 - August 2009, pp. 112-13, illustrated in colour

Beijing, National Art Museum of China, Gerhard Richter: Paintings 1963-2007, May - July 2008, pp. 130-31, illustrated in colour

Karlsruhe, ZKM Museum für Neue Kunst, just what is it... 100 Jahre Kunst der Moderne aus privaten Sammlungen in Baden-Württemberg, December 2009 - April 2010, pp. 274-75, illustrated in colour

London, Tate Modern; and Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Gerhard Richter. Panorama, October 2011 - September 2012, p. 147, illustrated in colour


Rudi Fuchs, ‘Meister ohne Stil und Grammatik’, art. Das Kunstmagazin, June 1982, pp. 42-43, illustrated in colour Exh. Cat. (and catalogue raisonné), Bonn, Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Gerhard Richter: 1962-1993, December 1993 - February 1994, n.p., no. 492, illustrated in colour

Helmut Friedel, Ed., Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus München, Munich 1995, pp. 92-93, illustrated in colour (installation view)

Gabi Czöppan, ‘Schick mit Folgen’, Focus, 9 September 1996, p. 122, illustrated in colour

Adi Martis, ‘Het neo-expressionisme’, in: Adi Martis and Mieke Rijnders, Eds., Expressionisme en primitivisme in de beeldene kunst van de twintigste eeuw, Heerlen 1998, p. 171, no. 162, illustrated in colour

Christian Saehrendt, ‘Verweildauer je Bild: eine Minute’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, 23 October 2005, p. 80, illustrated in colour

Georg Patzer, ‘Der Meister aller Stilarten’, Stuttgarter Zeitung, 23 January 2008, p. 26, illustrated in colour

Keith Hartley, ‘Radical Senses’, MAP, Winter 2008/09, p. 67

Stefano Castelli, ‘Gerhard Richter, cinico e liberale’, Arte, October 2011, p. 96, illustrated in colour

Waldemar Januszczak, ‘Is Gerhard Richter the world’s greatest living artist?’, The Sunday Times, 9 October 2011, pp. 8-9, illustrated in colour

T. J. Clark, ‘Grey Panic’, London Review of Books, 17 November 2011, p. 6, illustrated in colour

Guitemie Maldonado, ‘Images d’abstractions’, connaisance des arts, hors-séries, No. 538, 2012, p. 48, illustrated in colour

Jörg Heiser, ‘Gerhard Richter’, Frieze, February 2012, Issue 144, p. 131, illustrated in colour

Itzhak Goldberg, ‘Gerhard Richter, peintre multitâche’, Beaux Arts Magazine, June 2012, pp. 88-89, illustrated in colour

Jérôme Coignard, ‘Gerhard Richter, un géant à Paris’, connaisance des arts, June 2012, p. 59, illustrated in colour

Valerie Duponchelle, ‘Gerhard Richter, le triomphe de la peinture’, Le Figaro, 5 June 2012, p. 28, illustrated in colour

Harry Kampianne, ‘Gerhard Richter. Le peintre qui peut tout peindre’, art actuel, July/August 2012, p. 33, illustrated in colour

Dietmar Elger, Ed., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1976-1987, Vol. III, Ostfildern 2013, p. 267, no. 492, illustrated in colour

Exh. Cat., London, British Museum, Germany Divided. Baselitz and his generation. From the Duerckheim Collection, February - August 2014, p. 147 (text)


Condition: This colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate although the strong yellow and green tonalities are very slightly paler in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Close inspection reveals some minor surface dirt in places to the extreme edges. Close inspection reveals spots of minor paint compression in places to the lower left corner of the right-hand canvas where the two canvases meet. Further inspection reveals a hairline crack towards the lower centre of the extreme left hand edge, a minute paint loss to the lower edge towards the lower left hand corner, and another to the overturm top edge towards the top left hand corner. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultraviolet light.
"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

1982 was a remarkable year for Gerhard Richter. In a tremendous outpouring of creativity, the artist had produced a tumult of divergent works that can principally be divided into two distinct, yet philosophically entangled, polarities: the photorealistic candles and the freeform abstract paintings. Of the latter and executed during this standout year, the present work is a landmark feat of conceptual and painterly achievement. It marks the true beginning of Richter’s ground-breaking Asbtrakte Bilder: a career defining engagement that now spans two thirds of the artist’s output. Comprising two panels that together extend to just over 4 metres in length, Gelbgrün is one of the very largest works by the artist; indeed, there is no other painting that surpasses the span of this work and its size is matched only by the brilliance of its facture. As a monumental exposition in abstract mark-making, Gelbgrün is dominated by strident shades of yellow, punctuated by accents of red, and unified by a viscous green layer against a sky blue background. Having made its debut in the historic documenta 7 and featured in countless museum surveys since – including Richter's first major institutional retrospective in 1986, and more recently, the acclaimed Panorama retrospective at Tate Modern and the Pompidou Centre to name only two – Gelbgrün encapsulates a newly realised yet utterly pioneering and critically celebrated artistic direction: the painting's extensive bibliography alone is pure testament to this. In size this painting embodies the very limit of Richter's practice and in composition it is as aesthetically forceful as it is conceptually daring. In 1982 Gelbgrün announced Richter's true arrival on the world stage; 36 years later, this painting embodies the very apex of Richter's artistic achievements. During the late 1970s Richter had spent a number of years grappling with his practice. The start of a new decade, however, brought with it a resounding sense of ideological clarity. As illuminated by Richter’s supporting statement for documenta 7 in 1982: “In abstract painting we have found a better way of gaining access to the unvisuablisable, the incomprehensible; because abstract painting deploys the utmost visual immediacy… the unknown simultaneously alarms us and fills us with hope, and so we accept the pictures as a possible way to make the inexplicable more explicable, or at all events more accessible” (Gerhard Richter, text for catalogue of documenta 7, Kassel, 1982, in: Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Eds., Gerhard Richter - Text: Writings, Interviews and  Letters 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 121). To understand the new impetus behind Richter's work of the early 1980s, it is worth tracing a course through his practice up to this point. 

Since the outset of his career during the early 1960s, Richter has called into question the conceptual relevance of painting within a visual age governed by photography and mechanical reproduction. Navigating a systematic trajectory of incredibly disparate yet thematically related painterly approaches, Richter has ceaselessly pursued the paradoxical aim to paint ‘like a camera’. In the early 1960s Richter began his professional career by producing impersonal black and white photorealistic paintings unified by a sweeping blur, later moving on to a series of colour charts and monochrome grey paintings in order to detach authorial gesture and subjective expression from the painterly act. By the mid-1970s, however, Richter had reached a dead-end: “My paintings became more and more impersonal and general until nothing was left but monochrome grey or colours next to each other, unmodulated colour. Then I was totally outside my paintings. But I didn’t feel well either. You can’t live like that and therefore I decided to paint the exact opposite” (Gerhard Richter cited in: Camille Morineau, ‘The Blow-Up, Primary Colours and Duplications’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and travelling), Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011-12, p. 123). The years between the last colour charts, or Farben, and the creation of the present painting mark a period of experimental ground-work through which Richter discovered, via the squeegee, the legitimacy of free abstraction without the requisite of a photographic source.

Some years prior to the execution of the present work, Richter made a series of paintings based on photographs of thickly applied oil paint and close-up details of brushstrokes. Monumentally blown up yet painted with photorealist veracity, these images of zoomed-in paint echoed the appearance of strange landscapes or sfumato abstractions. Art historian Camille Morineau cogently illuminates this period of Richter’s career as informed and propelled by the ‘Blow-Up’: the stylistic means through which “the figurative can become abstract and the abstract figurative through being enlarged or reduced” (Camille Morineau, ‘The Blow-Up, Primary Colours and Duplications’ in: Ibid., pp. 126-27). To this end, one of Richter’s largest works, Stroke (on Red) (1980), created for a school in Soest, took on revelatory importance in the artist’s pursuit of photo-realistic abstraction. Using a one-metre wide piece of cardboard painted with a single yellow brushstroke, Richter took, enlarged, and projected a photograph of this small sketch onto two monumental canvases – copying in paint the original brushstroke at an enlargement spanning twenty metres. Seen from a distance the image falls into perfect figurative sense, yet viewed up close, the yellow line dissipates into a shroud of droplets that partially reveal and conceal the card’s underlying ground. 

At this point, the squeegee was a totally new and unfamiliar device for Richter. After experimenting with its effect on small canvases, the artist realised its visual and conceptual importance. Unpredictable and semi-automated, the effect of the squeegee's scrape and accretion of paint across the canvas’ surface imparted veils of disintegrating occlusions and exposures that, for Richter, directly correlated with the appearance of the enlarged brushstroke at Soest. As explained by Morineau: “Richer would have noticed that the squeegee produced an image that looked like the blown-up stroke: a veil of colour that partially hides, partially reveals what is underneath. That is to say, Richter’s very modestly sized first squeegee painting, CR: 456-1, a mere 80cm wide, resembles the massive yellow Stroke. It was made without any source image, but it looked similar to paintings made by inflating such an image. In other words, the first squeegee painting mimics the appearance of a ‘blown-up’ stroke even though it was made completely differently. From this point onwards, Richter would have understood this lesson: an abstract painting could be made without any starting image…” (Ibid., p. 127). Using the squeegee as a means to achieve photographic verisimilitude without a source image, the ensuing years witnessed an extraordinary progression towards Richter’s primary intent to paint ‘like a camera’.

As redolent in Gelbgrün, not only do the thick tracts of paint imparted by the squeegee echo the appearance of blown-up paint details, but their application would increasingly begin to mimic a kind of representation tied to forms found in the natural world. The comingling of colours and often unpredictable compositional configurations would hereafter implore the same cognitive viewing experience as his photo works, in which a blurred, half-seen or remembered image is evoked within a field of ceaseless chromatic and textural permutations. Herein, the present work signals the artist’s achievement of true semblance through totally free and subject-less painting; indeed, 1982 marks the year in which Richter truly realised an approach to art-making reflective of the post-modern televisual age.

The notion of reflection is an apposite one when considering the present work and the conceptual framework that brought it into being. Composed of two identically sized canvases that strike a compositional balance across two halves, Gelbgrün imparts a sense of doubling or mirroring; an effect that conceptually echoes photographic – or even cinematic – replication. This is a character trait that links this painting with two contemporaneous yet aesthetically disparate bodies of work: the Speigel (Mirrors) and the photorealistic Eisberge (Icebergs), Kerze (Candles) and Schädel (Skulls). With their soft focus old-master style and larger than life proportions, the Candle and Skull paintings imitate a seventeenth-century vanitas tradition, and at the same time proffer an analogy for photographic replication and enlargement. The latter can also be said for the Eisberge, which, as painted enlargements of photographs Richter took of icebergs and their reflections in glacial water, double-up on the theme of duplication. To this end, however, it is the mirror works that emerge as essential to an overall understanding of Richter’s oeuvre post-1980. Having made their debut in 1981, these pieces replicate the environment that surrounds us in real time. They reproduce the ever-fluctuating, spontaneous, and unknowable conditions that govern reality as contained within the cropped proportions of a cinema screen. On the other hand, however, and akin to the photoreaslitic works, the Mirrors perpetuate and mimic the illusion of phenomenological appearance. This is a condition, however, that the abstract paintings – while entrenched within a post-modern photographic/cinematic condition – nonetheless bypass.

In 1981 Richter began carefully constructing his abstract paintings from a litany of floating forms. Although seeming to extol a random confluence of gestural painterly marks, the early 1980s abstracts were in fact established through a complex process, to quote Morineau, “of development and juxtaposition” (Ibid., p. 131).  As is present in Gelbgrün, many of these works were set against a “three-dimensional” blue space that “evoked the sky and created a primary depth” (Ibid., p. 128). For Richter, this established an elemental pictorial space and naturalistic environment against which a catalogue of brushstrokes in individual colours – predominantly red, yellow, blue and green – could be placed. In the present work, architectural blocks of dense yellow are set against a blue ombre background that begins to turn into sunset orange. The subsequent vertical stuttering of green pigment mediates a set of openwork layers that are sparingly punctuated by both fine and wide brushstrokes in red and white. It is almost as if the picture unfolds through pictorial space, and by implication, like the Mirrors, reflects and imitates the passing of time. With Gelbgrün, however, it is the graze of the squeegee‘s pseudo-mechanical tract-like layers of thick green paint that not only unifies the composition across both panels, but significantly pictures something familiar and knowable about the utterly abstract and unknown. In this sense, the present work is one of the very first glimpses of the extraordinary imagistic reality of the Abstrakte Bilder: like a camera, Richter catches a snap-shot of a visual realm or sensual experience that is utterly beyond known appearance. Having opened a window onto an entirely new universe of imagistic potential in paint, Gelbgrün is a glorious affirmation of Richter’s supporting statement for documenta 7 in 1982: “[T]he unknown simultaneously alarms us and fills us with hope, and so we accept the pictures as a possible way to make the inexplicable more explicable… Art is the highest form of hope” (Gerhard Richter, text for catalogue of documenta 7, Kassel, 1982, op. cit.).