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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Gerhard Richter
B. 1932
BAUMGRUPPE (GROVE OF TREES)
signed, numbered 628-1 and dated 1987 on the reverse
oil on canvas
72.2 by 102.1 cm. 28 3/8 by 40 1/4 in.
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Provenance

Galleria Pieroni, Rome
Tommaso and Giuliana Setari Collection
Private Collection, Milan
Galerie Springer & Winckler, Berlin
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011 

Exhibited

Rome, Galleria Pieroni, Isa Genzken and Gerhard Richter: Sculpture and Painting, December 1987 - January 1988
Ghent, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Gent, Corpus delicti: due collezioni private: un dialogo nord/sud, July - September 1995, p. 74, illustrated in colour
Hanover, Sprengel Museum Hannover, Gerhard Richter: Landscapes, October 1998 - January 1999, p. 89, illustrated in colour
London, Christie’s Mayfair, Polke / Richter – Richter / Polke, April - July 2014, pp. 117 and 170, illustrated in colour

Literature

Klaus Honnef, Kunst der Gegenwart, Cologne 1988, p. 85, illustrated in colour
Exh. Cat. (and catalogue raisonné), Bonn, Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Gerhard Richter: 1962-1993, Vol. III, December 1993 - February 1994, p. 106, no. 628-1, illustrated in colour
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Maler, Cologne 2002 and 2008, p. 349, illustrated in colour (2002); and p. 309, no. 628-1, illustrated in colour (2008)
Kunst, No. 4, 2006, p. 40, illustrated in colour
Dietmar Elger (trans. Elizabeth M. Solaro), Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago 2009, p. 276, no. 10.6, illustrated in colour
Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter, Paris 2010, p. 231, illustrated in colour 
Hubertus Butin, Oskar Bätschmann and Dietmar Elger, Eds., Gerhard Richter: Landscapes, Ostfildern 2011, p. 111, illustrated in colour
Dietmar Elger, Ed., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1976-1987, Vol. III, Ostfildern 2013, p. 572, no. 628-1, illustrated in colour
Dieter Wellershoff, Was die Bilder erzählen. Ein Rundgang durch mein imaginäres Museum, Cologne 2013, p. 314, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Pensive, verdant, and profoundly nostalgic, Baumgruppe (Grove of Trees) exemplifies Gerhard Richter’s wilful and defiant movement between representation and abstraction, the photographic and the gestural. In the present work, the viewer is confronted with a breath-taking sense of overlapping space and layering – a visual sensation deeply intrinsic to the artist’s greater oeuvre. Here the dynamic between Richter’s photographic realism and painterly gesture, to quote author Siri Hustvedt, “becomes one of revelation and concealment, of seeing and blindness, of playing one dimension against and with the other, and of creating ambiguities between them” (Siri Hustvedt, ‘Truth and Rightness’ in: Exh. Cat., Leverkusen, Museum Morsbroich (and travelling), Gerhard Richter: Overpainted Photographs, 2008, p. 77). Hailing from the artist’s 628 series, the present work is one of four meticulously rendered landscape paintings executed in 1987, all based on photographs from a sheet of Richter’s Atlas, the foundational source material and preparatory documentation for the artist’s practice. Significantly, of the four works in the series, Baumgruppe is one of two works that are partially overpainted, a conceptual gesture that offers a spectacular glimpse of the tension between Richter’s two realities – photography and painting – as well as the powerful dynamic between the artist’s diverse and highly technical modes of applying paint to canvas. The fluidity between the mediums of photography and painting as seen on the surface of Baumgruppe is recast throughout Richter’s vast body of work, and most particularly in his series of overpainted photographs, which he began in 1989, two years after the present work was executed. The small-format works approach the very same questions that Richter poses in Baumgruppe: what is painting without photography, and photography without painting? For Richter, “without the painted intervention, the image would die” (Ibid., p. 77).    

Baumgruppe exhibits a powerful dance between past and present: the landscape in the background conjures a photographic instant in time, the gestural swathes of paint in the foreground a succinct reminder of both the present, and equally, the presence of the artist’s hand. Richter’s audience is thus left in a state of visual limbo, as art historian Robert Storr has outlined, “The tensions increase between the desire for one thing (a beautiful imaginary place to which the viewer might escape) and the actuality of another (a beautiful painting that checks that escape and makes the viewer acutely conscious of its impossibility)” (Robert Storr, ‘Openings and Culs de Sac’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, (and travelling), Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, 2002, p. 67). As such, we are intentionally left yearning for the conventional, classical beauty of Richter’s seemingly romanticised, half-concealed landscape. Yet the artist himself asserts, “Of course, my landscapes are not only beautiful or nostalgic, with a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost Paradises, but above all ‘untruthful’… and by ‘untruthful’ I mean the glorifying way we look at nature – nature, which in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely mindless: the total antithesis of ourselves, absolutely inhuman” (Gerhard Richter cited in: Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Eds., Gerhard Richter: Text, Cologne 2009, p. 158).

Richter’s extraordinary articulation of nature throughout his oeuvre as both glorified and inhuman is undoubtedly reminiscent of, yet antithetical to, late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century German Romantic landscapes, and in particular, Caspar David Fredrich’s allegorical panoramas featuring the colossal scale and metaphysical dimension of nature. Richter’s work manifests the very same sense of grandeur, atmosphere, and melancholy: “For me, there’s an authentic historical reference to Romanticism. It’s what distinguishes me from the hyperrealists who represent all the elements of our contemporary world – cars, highways, etc. I paint historical paintings… I think we just haven’t surpassed Romanticism. The paintings of that period are still part of our sensibility… Romanticism is far from being a closed book” (Gerhard Richter cited in: Ibid., p. 82).  The works Richter painted in 1987, the same year Baumgruppe was executed, also allude to the strong sense of spirituality that resides at the philosophical core of German Romanticism and its view of nature. All of Richter’s figurative paintings executed in 1987 either depict blooming, budding trees or serene cathedrals – sometimes together, as in the hauntingly beautiful composition Domecke, which shows a shaded cathedral corner and a lush, partially sun-soaked tree. In the same series, Richter also painted a dramatic, photo-realist cathedral interior which he later overpainted, translating the entire composition into chromatic abstraction akin to the surface of the present work. Baumgruppe offers a sublime example of this process of translation – from representation to abstraction – yet here the process is frozen through intervals and layers of time and meaning. Richter affirms, “…the landscapes are a type of yearning, a yearning for a whole and simple life. A little nostalgic. The abstract works are my presence, my reality, my problems, my difficulties, my contradictions….” (Ibid., p. 146). In Baumgruppe, we are magnificently awarded such intended sentiments – yearning, presence and contradiction – through a symphony of compositional tension and divergent pictorial technique. The present work thus stands as a remarkable example of Richter’s inimitable conceptual abilities as a painter, as well as the profoundly reflective and deliberate character of his practice.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London