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Abstraktes Bild

Abstraktes Bild
signed, inscribed and dated ‘809-4 Richter 1994’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
88 5⁄8 x 78 3⁄4 in. (225 x 200 cm.)
Painted in 1994.
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch Collection, Berlin
Their sale; Sotheby's, New York, 14 November 2001, lot 31
Eric Clapton, United Kingdom
His sale; Sotheby’s, London, 12 October 2012, lot 15
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, 1998, p. 89 (illustrated).
A. Zweite, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1993-2004, Düsseldorf, 2005, p. 271, no. 809-4
M. Thibaut, "Eric Clapton trennt sich von Gerhard Richter," Handelsblatt, 28-30 September, 2012, p. 68 (illustrated).
S. Lux, "Kampf um Richter,“ Die Zeit, 4 October 2012, p. 62.
“Eyewitness 8.10.2012 London,” The Guardian, 8 October 2012, pp. 20-21 (illustrated).
C. Vogel, “Richter Painting Sets Record for a Living Artist,” New York Times, 16 October 2012, p. C3 (illustrated).
M. Thibaut, “Mit Vernunft und Zurückhaltung," Handelsblatt, 19-21 October 2012, p. 76.
A. Reimbers, "Am liebsten unkompliziert und vielversprechend,“ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 20 October 2012, p. 39 (illustrated).
G. Waser, "Gerhard Richter ohne Konkurrenz, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 20 October 2012, p. 19
G. Czöppan, "Die Revolution der Bilder," Focus, 5 November 2012, p. 167 (illustrated).
S. Koldehoff, "Höhe + Breite mal 10 = DM, Die Zeit, 22 November 2012, p. 66.
N. N, "Das Millardengeschäft," Der Spiegel, 3 December 2012, p. 149 (illustrated).
J. Tully, "And Then There Was One, Art + Auction, December 2012, p. 81 (illustrated).
R. Gropp, “Eric Clapton. Glückliches Slowhändchen," Z-Die schönen Seiten, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung / Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag, December 2012, p. 50 (illustrated).
J. Higgens, "Gerhard Richter," 21st Century Portraits, exh. cat., London, National Portrait Gallery, 2013, p. 218.
Art+, February 2013, p. 142 (illustrated).
R. Kraeussl, “Calibrating the Richter Scale,” Art + Auction, March 2013, p. 139 (illustrated).
L. Delubac, “Marché, de l’art : les tendances de 2013, Beaux Arts Magazine, May 2013, p. 134
Dries Van Noten: Inspirations, exh. cat., Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 2014, p. 230 (illustrated).
T. Wagner, "Gerhard Richter für Anfänger und Fortgeschrittene, art spezial: Gerhard Richter Der Über-Maler, 2013, pp. 35 (illustrated).
C. Herchenröder, "Futter für einen florierenden Markt," art spezial: Gerhard Richter Der Über-Maler, 2014, pp. 107-108 (illustrated)
S. Moore, "Art Market," Apollo, November 2016, p. 80.
W. Ullrich, “Bilder für alle," art: Das Kunstmagazin, January 2017, pp. 68-69 (illustrated).
K. Arnold and J. E. Kaufman, “Market Perspective,” Luxury Magazine, spring 2017, p. 225.
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 5 1994-2006, Berlin, 2019, no. 809-4, pp. 74-75 (illustrated).
London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: Painting in the Nineties, June-August 1995, pp. 51 and 85, no. 18 (illustrated).
Moscow, Manezh Moscow State Exhibition Hall, Art of Our Time: Contemporary Art from a Private Collection in Berlin, September-October 1997, p. 74, no. 45 (illustrated).
Dresden, Residenzschloss, Dalí, Miró, Picasso... Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch Collection, January-August 2000.
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department


Exhibiting a chromatic potency that is unmatched in contemporary painting, Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bilder attest to the timeless and emotive power of color. In the present work, saturated hues of deep red, golden yellows, and rich sapphire blues roil up through the highly active surface to magnificent effect. The culmination of a lifelong investigation into the practice of painting, Abstraktes Bild also encapsulates the artist’s investigations into the formal and conceptual possibilities of painting, his unique technique opening up the composition and disrupting the sanctity of the painted surface.

Measuring nearly seven feet square, the viewer becomes enveloped in the dynamism of the kaleidoscopic surface, captivated by the intricate details are myriad of colorful hues. Before Richter embarked upon his series of abstract paintings, few would have described him as a colorist, but as Robert Storr has enthusiastically averred, in works such as the present example “it is hard to think of him as anything other than one of the great colorists of late twentieth-century painting” (R. Storr, quoted in Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., the Museum of Modern Art, New York 2002, p. 70). Formerly in the collection of legendary collector Heiner Pietzsch and his wife Ulla, and latterly the legendary guitarist Eric Clapton, Abstraktes Bild is a magnificent example from one of the most celebrated bodies of work of the past fifty years.

Painted in 1994, Abstraktes Bild is a sumptuous example of the artist’s comprehensive interrogations of the painted surface. Executed on a monumental scale, in the present work Richter choreographs a prismatic array of jewel-like hues across the surface of the canvas. With careful sweeps of his brush—and even more stringent manipulations of the pigment using his hard-edged plastic squeegee—the artist lays down seams of vibrant, unadulterated color. Passages of primary red, blue and yellow coalesce throughout the composition, resulting in bottomless pools of saturated color. At their edges, where they come into contact with neighboring passages of color, they transition into activated areas that fizz with energy. Like Rothko’s floating fields of pigment, it is here where pigment coalesces with pigment that the visual energy present in the best examples of Richter’s work can most acutely be seen. The arduous process of applying, and then scraping off, consecutive layers of paint results in an intricate surface of infinite detail: thick impasto sits alongside thin veneers of paint that are so gossamer thin as to reveal the texture of the warp and weft of the underlying canvas. Traces of the broad sweep of the squeegee, are then disrupted by the thin furrows of a sharp implement dragged across the wet surface. The sum of all these parts is a fantastically intricate and highly advanced painted surface, and as such Abstraktes Bild stands as an exemplary examples of Richter’s practice and his investigations in the physical act of painting and the very nature of paint itself.

Abstraktes Bild’s expansive scale results in a deeply engaging experience. The vibrant, almost acidic green is intricately balanced by the flaming red layer which shimmers through to the surface. Like a fiery sunset reflecting off the surface of the surface of a lake or pond, Richter evokes the natural associations inherent in the physical presence of the painting. But just as in Monet’s late great water lilies, Richter’s intensions are not to fool the eye into recreating an image of a landscape, the effect is deliberately ambiguous, seeming to both conceal and reveal at the same time and vying with one another for the eye’s attention. Thus these areas provide a pictorial demonstration of Richter’s belief that what we call reality is ultimately a ‘fiction’, a mere model for understanding the world.

Richter’s Abstraktes Bild forms an important part of his belief about the fundamentals of painting. In both physical and painterly forms they represent the artist’s faith in the highest form of human endeavor. Although they adhere to no known logic or ideology they are created through a carefully thought out and precise accumulation of paint and executed in a thoroughly distinctive process during which Richter deliberately avoids all conventional rules of aesthetics in order to arrive at work that belies pictorial ideology. "I can... see my abstracts as metaphors," Richter has said; they are "pictures that are about a possibility of social coexistence. Looked at in this way, all that I am trying to do in each picture is to bring together the most disparate and mutually contradictory elements, alive and viable, in the greatest possible freedom. No Paradises" (G. Richter in an interview with Benjamin Buchloh, 1986, reprinted in: Gerhard Richter. Writings 1962 -93, London, 1995, p.166.)

This deliberate ambiguity is intended to demonstrate that all perception is an illusion. By seemingly providing several layers of conflicting abstract reality, Richter presents a forest-like mystery where the viewer quite literally can't see the wood for the trees. Playing with the surfaces of his abstracts, Richter is in effect exploring them in the same way that he explored the ambiguity of blurring in his photographic paintings of the 1960s. As with these works, Richter is clearly still fascinated with surface and the insight it can provide into the mystery of what lies beneath.

Richter’s luscious application of paint in Abstraktes Bild is evidence of this sheer joy of the purity of the painterly process. Unfettered by any requirement for representation, the process is, for Richter, almost akin to a religious experience. As he once said, ‘Art is the pure realization of religious feeling, capacity for faith, longing for God. All other realizations of these, outstanding human qualities, abuse those qualities by exploiting them; that is, by serving an ideology. Even art becomes ‘applied art’ just as it gives up its freedom from function and sets out to convey a message. Art is only human in the absolute refusal to make a statement. The ability to believe is our outstanding quality, and only art adequately translates it into reality. (G. Richter, ‘Notes’, 1988, reprinted in: H.-U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter. The Daily Practice of Painting, London, 1995, p. 170).

Despite his large and varied body of work Richter found particular pleasure in his abstract paintings. This inherent love of painting and sheer joy in color shines though in this work. Whereas the flat fields of color in Barnett Newman’s monochromes sought to evoke the sublime, Richter’s sense of pleasure is clear in his description of the working process, which combines the deliberate strategy and deconstruction with the simple and exuberant enjoyment that is clearly evident, “At the beginning, I feel totally free, and it’s fun, like being a child. The paintings can look good for a day or an hour. Over time, they change. In the end, you become like a chess player. It takes me longer than some people to recognize their quality, their situation – to realize when they are finished. Finally, one day I enter the room and say, ‘Checkmate.’ Then sometimes I need a break, a quiet job, like a landscape. But I always need to paint abstracts again.’ (quoted in M. Kimmelman, ‘Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms’, The New York Times, 27 January 2002).

Abstraktes Bild was first acquired by the legendary German collector Heiner Pietzsch and his wife Ulla. Pietzsch built a world-class collection of Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist art, much of which he donated to the Berlin State Museums. His interests included works by Max Ernst, René Magritte, Paul Delvaux, and Joan Miró. In addition to Surrealism, the couple built up large holdings of Abstract Expressionism including works by Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock. Later, the painting was acquired by the guitarist Eric Clapton, in whose collection it remained for over a decade.

The near sublime beauty and balance of Abstraktes Bild can be understood as a reflection of the artist’s great personal satisfaction during this period. In spite of his many claims to the contrary, the work appears to betray a sense of his own emotional life, the ebullient red resonating with the new found success in his career. The early 1990s were a time of supreme contentment for the artist; in 1991 he had held his breakthrough exhibition at Tate Gallery, London and in 1993 he received a major touring retrospective Gerhard Richter: Malerei 1962-1993 curated by Kasper König, with a three volume catalogue edited by Benjamin Buchloch. This latter exhibition containing 130 works carried out over the course of thirty years, was to entirely reinvent Richter’s career. As critic Doris von Drathen wrote shortly after, “here are exhibitions that, like great milestones, reset the standards in contemporary art. Richter’s retrospective, launching now at the ARC in Paris, is of this quality” (D. von Drathen quoted in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago 2009, p. 323).

Works such as Abstraktes Bild represent the pinnacle of Richter’s painterly investigations. This work is a continuation of what began with the blurred and disrupted surfaces of his early grey photo-paintings. The broad vistas of pigment that sweep across the surface here break down the arbitrary dichotomy of abstraction and figuration by opening up the surface to reveal to hidden structure of mysterious forms. Considered a master amongst twentieth century artists for his expert handling of paint, this picture in particular demonstrates Richter's unrivalled ability to produce mysterious and atmospheric works that also questions the very nature of painting in the modern age.

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