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A quick look at Gerhard Richter

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

By Tom Godfrey

On 28 July 2020, Sotheby’s held the ‘Rembrandt to Richter Evening Sale’ – a livestream with artworks spanning from 1468 to 1984. In total, the auction house fetched £149.7 million from the sale, which was watched by 150,000 people. Amongst the artworks sold was Gerhard Richter’s Wolken (fenster). The painting was sold for £10.5 million, making it the fourth highest sale of the evening.

Sotheby’s describes Wolken (fenster) as ‘a work of celestial and immersive beauty’ and suggests that, whilst the piece makes reference to many classical works, it is also very much a contemporary piece because, to produce the painting, Richter made use of modern technology by copying a photograph.

Wolken (Fenster), 1970, Oil on canvas (Bing: Creative Commons)

Today, collectors desperately want to get hold of Richter’s artworks. However, his pieces have not always been as desirable as they now are. Abstraktes Bild (599) appeared on sale in 1999 and went under the hammer for less than £1 million, yet in 2015 it sold for £30.4 million.

The reason for Richter’s growth in popularity is partially due to the subject matter of some of his pieces. During a period described by David Anfam, a leading authority on modern art, as being relatively boring, Richter produced works that deal with hugely important issues. 18. Oktober 1977, the title of a series of paintings of the extremist group in Germany, for example, was sought-after because of its sociological importance. Included in the 15 paintings in the series are the dead bodies of three of the terrorists from the group. These paintings include a certain amount of blur, so that it is difficult to recognise the bodies of the terrorists. As such, Richter’s pieces are seen as daring in content, as well as in style.

Erschossener 1, 1988, Oil on canvas (Bing: Creative Commons)

Although the paintings of the terrorist group hold much of their value as a result of their clear depictions of contemporary chaos, Richter’s abstract painting Abstraktes Bild (599) is the piece that sold for the highest value. It acts as proof that Richter can paint in many different styles, and does not have to rely on representational compositions. The painting is full of colour and abstract shapes, and is a clear indication of the artist’s position as a contemporary artist.

Abstraktes Bild (599), 1986, Oil on canvas (Bing: Creative Commons)

Richter has worked with countless mediums throughout his life. He is known for his photorealism; his abstract paintings; his sculpture; his drawings; his colour charts; and even for having created a stained glass window. Richter was asked to create a window for Cologne Cathedral, and designed one – free of charge – which contained 72 colours. In September 2020, he presented another stained glass window, at Tholey abbey.

It is clear that Richter is able to work in many different ways, and this is perhaps part of the reason that he is so famous as an artist. However, although Richter’s pieces fetch millions when they go to auction, he claims that he has no interest in the price for which they sell, and that he does not create art for a financial purpose.

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