Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1986
Press Release

One of Gerhard Richter’s Greatest Monumental Abstract Masterpieces

To Star in Sotheby’s London
Modern & Contemporary Evening Sale, 1 March 2023
Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1986 Sotheby's

LONDON, 12 January 2023: A monumental masterpiece from Gerhard Richter’s celebrated cycle of abstract paintings is to headline Sotheby’s London Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 1 March 2023. Of spectacular proportions, spanning four metres across (260.4cm x 400cm), Abstraktes Bild, 1986, is one of the first large-scale paintings from the series ever created by the artist, boasting a size and chromatic intensity rarely found even within the grand arc of the artist’s monumental masterworks.

Abstraktes Bild will be offered at auction with an estimate in excess of £20 million. The painting comes from an American private collection where it has remained since its last sale at Sotheby’s New York in 2007 for $9.7 million (est. $6-8 million), at the time a record auction price for an abstract work by Richter and the second highest price for the artist.

One of the greatest monumental Abstrakes Bilder by Gerhard Richter remaining in private hands, this painting marks the pinnacle of a series that stands amongst the towering achievements of 20th-century art. Of exceptional wallpower, quality, importance and rarity, Abstraktes Bild affirms Richter as the father of contemporary abstraction and documents the pivotal moment in his career when he abandoned the brush in favour of the squeegee as his primary compositional tool.
James Sevier, Sotheby’s European Head of Contemporary Art

Richter has only ever produced 24 Abstraktes Bild of this magnitude (with a width greater than 380 cm), of which half of these reside in museum collections across the globe. Moreover the present work is closely related to the current record price for Gerhard Richter at auction – another landmark painting from 1986 only two works apart from the present example in the artist’s catalogue raisonné – which sold at Sotheby’s London in 2015 for £30.2 million / $46.3 million, the highest price for the artist ever achieved at auction.

The critical year of 1986 heralds a decisive break in the artist’s work, and the artist’s first large-scale touring retrospective Gerhard Richter: Paintings 1962-1985 in Düsseldorf, Berlin, Bern and Vienna. This was the moment Richter took up the squeegee as his decisive and principal compositional tool, relinquishing any planned compositional elements of form and structure in favour of the indeterminate scrape of the squeegee. Following the artist’s earlier explorations into abstraction between 1980-85 (with works characterised by layers of bold and wide brush-marks) the works that followed from 1986 to 1989 represent the absolute apex of Richter’s Abstraktes Bilder.

Reminiscent of a landscape, or the strata of a Monet waterlily painting, the horizontal swathes of paint migrate across Abstraktes Bild in wave like-motion across the breadth of the canvas. Texture, colour and structure are here deployed with spectacular force, with the gliding scrape of the squeegee revealing the kaleidoscopic architectural structure of the artist’s underpainting. In perfect compositional balance, the deep blue greens on the left-hand side of the composition give way to bright primary colours of red and yellow and blue on the right-hand side, in a gradation redolent of the artist’s earlier photo paintings.

The auction on 1 March follows new benchmarks set for several of the artist’s series in 2022: for any seascape (Seestück sold for $30.2 million in May, est. $25-35m), for any colour chart painting (192 Faben sold for £18.3 million in October, est £13-18m) and for any cloud painting (Wolkenstudie (contre-jour) sold for £11.2 million in June, est. £6-8m).

Abstrakes Bild, 1986, will be exhibited for the first time since 2007 at the Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club, Miami Beach, from 14-17 January, before travelling to New York to hang alongside Sotheby’s Master Week (24-27 January), and to Hong Kong in early February, before the painting’s exhibition in London ahead of the auction (22 February- 1 March).

In February the artist will celebrate his 91st birthday before the opening of “Gerhard Richter. 100 works for Berlin” in March, the unveiling of 100 works left by the artist on long-term loan to the city’s Nationalgalerie.

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