Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Gerhard Richter
signed, dated 1976 and numbered 393/1 on the reverse
oil on panel
50.2 by 50.2 cm. 19 3/4 by 19 3/4 in.
Lire le rapport d'état Lire le rapport d'état


Private Collection, Europe (acquired directly from the artist)
Kunsthaus Lempertz, Cologne, 31 May 1986, Lot 842
Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Vienna
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Dietmar Elger, Ed., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1976-1987, Vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 2013, p. 57, no. 393-1, illustrated in colour


Executed in 1976, Grau is a captivating example of Gerhard Richter’s seminal series of Grey Paintings. Transcending into an ethereal galaxy of infinity akin to the density of dark matter, Richter’s sublime canvas is supreme in appearance and subtle in size. Rebelliously enigmatic, the present work embarks on a revolutionary path in which the autonomy of pure colour is celebrated as the single highest authority within the picture plane. Beginning his exploration of grey in 1967, Richter utilises a single mid-grey tone of wrought iron applied with individually stylised brush strokes. His abyssal meander of deep charcoal thus pioneers the legacy of Twentieth Century titans such as Piero Manzoni and Yves Klein. Furthering the reaffirmation of artistic and aesthetic purity, Klein sought to determine the absolute immateriality of painting, commenting, ‘…I do believe that it is only in the monochrome that I truly live pictorial life, the painterly life of which I have dreamed.’ (Yves Klein, ‘Truth Becomes Reality or Why Not!’, in: Yves Klein, Overcoming the Problems of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 143).

Similarly attracted to monochrome but instead to the objectivity and inconspicuousness of grey, Richter achieves a wondrous and hypnotic neutrality that is various at any one moment. Richter famously remarked, ‘Grey. It makes no statement whatever; it evokes neither feelings nor associations: it is really neither visible, in a positively illusionistic way…It has the capacity that no other colour has, to make ‘nothing’ visible.’ (Gerhard Richter, Gerhard Richter: Text, Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 91). For Richter, grey paralleled photography, a medium that remains the most important influence in his representational enquiry into the core natures of perception and cognition. Exploring profound notions of absence, Grau certainly creates a cohesive and mesmerising reality of its own. Richter continues, 'I want [my grey monochromes] to be seen as narratives - even if they are narratives of nothingness. Nothing is something. You might say they are like photographs of nothing' (Gerhard Richter cited in: Michael Kimmelman, 'Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms', The New York Times, 27 January 2002, online).

Such an artistic disposition intriguingly recalls Klein’s preceding manifesto ‘The Monochrome Adventure’ from 1954: ‘Painting is alchemical, and beyond time. It represents nothing” (Yves Klein, ‘The Monochrome Adventure’ in:  Exh. Cat., Houston, Institute for the Arts, Rice Museum, Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, Houston 1982, p. 46). The present work is thus deeply entrenched in the history of Modernism speaking profoundly to the monochromatic achievements of Yves Klein. Yet testament to the unrivalled critical force of Richter’s grand oeuvre, the Grey Paintings also speak intimately to Richter’s mastery of photography, to his longstanding celebration of the nihilism and visual boldness that characterises one of the most celebrated oeuvres of the contemporary period.

Contemporary Art Day Auction