Lot 451
  • 451

GERHARD RICHTER | Abstraktes Bild

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • Gerhard Richter
  • Abstraktes Bild
  • signed, dated 1988 and numbered 665-3 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 28 3/8 by 40 1/8 in. 72.1 by 101.9 cm.


Galerie Jean Bernier, Athens
Fundação de Serralves, Porto
Galeria Marga Paz, Madrid
Collection of Hans Svarverud, Copenhagen (acquired from the above)
Sotheby’s, London, 7 February 2003, Lot 160 
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner


Porto, Fundação de Serralves, Fragments for an Imaginary Museum, July - September 1994, p. 67, illustrated in color


Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, Bonn 1993, cat. no. 665-3 (mistakenly entered as cat. no. 665-2), illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., Baden-Baden, Museum Frieder Burda (and traveling), Gerhard Richter. Bilder aus privaten Sammlungen, 2008, p. 24
Dietmar Elger, Ed., Gerhard Richter, Catalogue Rasionné 1988-1994, Vol. 4, Ostfildern 2015, no. 665-3, p. 100, illustrated in color


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Catalogue Note

A chromatically electrifying and texturally complex example of Gerhard Richter’s seminal abstract practice, Abstraktes Bild from 1988 demonstrates the seductive painterly sensibility that has defined the artist’s celebrated oeuvre. Through the use of his signature squeegee technique, Richter has smeared, streaked, and marbled a surface of rich tactility and symphonic color. The vibrating veils of stuttering black paint in the present work simultaneously obscure and expose dazzling glimpses of cobalt blue, fiery red, and emerald green, while vivid flares of yellow and orange illuminate the upper reaches of the canvas. Created during the apex of Richter’s abstract practice in 1988-1992, when his method of dragging a spatula through wet-on-wet paint brought the Abstrakte Bilder to new heights of sophistication and complexity, the present work reveals a master at the peak of his powers. At once visually demanding and effortlessly elegant, Abstraktes Bild delivers a superlative balance between color and texture, creation and erasure, revealing and concealing—a magnificent model of Richter’s inimitable inquiry into abstraction. Distinguished by its kaleidoscopic rainbow of pigment, Abstraktes Bild’s visual power derives from the infinite ambiguity of its textural topography. Viewed from a variety of angles, different hues leap to the surface, as the fossil-like layers of impasto reveal alternating striations of color. A flickering lake of ultramarine dominates one side of the canvas, while fiery tendrils of vermillion pervade the work’s surface through the shadowy black upper stratum of paint. The effect is dazzling, as the ridges, peaks and crests of hue take on a kind of ethereal liquidity, creating a powerful sensation of depth and perspectival space. Paradoxically, the stratified excavation and resonant accumulation of color also imparts an eroded surface that possesses a fundamental solidity, the layering of paint serving to geologically record the process of its own creation. With Abstraktes Bild, Richter offers a study of paint’s infinite malleability, the harmonic interplay of hues producing an evocative atmosphere of depth and chaos.

To achieve this riotous melee of color, Richter relies upon the tool that has become his innovative artistic signature: the squeegee. He first lays down numerous thin coats of paint, then as it begins to dry, drags the rubber blade across the surface, disrupting the top layer to reveal a phantasmagoria of previous hues that merge and separate to form a complex interplay of color and depth. The pressure and speed of his application ultimately surrender to the unpredictability of chance, enabling him to relinquish a degree of control while enhancing the physical qualities of his medium. It is this separation of the artist from direct expression that bestows Richter’s paintings, most notably the Abstrakte Bilder, with their inherently natural look. As he has described, these paintings “allowed me to do what I had never let myself do: put something down at random. And then, of course, I realized that it never can be random. It was all a way of opening a door for me. If I don't know what's coming—that is, if I have no hard-and-fast image, as I have with a photographic original—then arbitrary choice and chance play an important part” (The artist quoted in Gerhard Richter: Text, London, 2009, p. 256). Indeed, the present work embodies the artist’s interrogations of order and chaos, its composition poised between the two in Richter’s signature style.

Marking the culmination of his liquescent explorations into the nature of painterly form, Abstraktes Bild reveals the full breadth of the artist’s idiosyncratic alchemy of abstraction. As an example of the series that has formed a conceptual keystone of his oeuvre for decades, the present work bears the legacy of Richter’s prolifically sustained philosophical inquiry into the role of paint. Throughout his career, Richter has questioned the reliability of painting and its function, beginning in a time when the medium itself had been completely eclipsed in favor of new and more innovative artistic techniques. Yet even today, Richter’s cerebral probing into the purpose and merits of painting remain relevant, challenging, and insightful. His mastery of the medium, exemplified by the present work, demonstrates his unrivalled ability to produce mysterious and atmospheric works that also question the very nature of painting in the modern age.