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Art Index: Gerhard Richter

“To talk about paintings is not only difficult but perhaps pointless too. You can only express in words what words are capable of expressing - what language can communicate. Painting has nothing to do with that.”

- Gerhard Richter


Gerhard Richter (German: [ˈʁɪçtɐ]; born 9 February 1932) is a German visual artist. Richter has produced abstract as well as photorealistic paintings, and also photographs and glass pieces. He is widely regarded as one of the most important contemporary German artists and several of his works have set record prices at auction.

Richter was born in Hospital Dresden-Neustadt in Dresden, Saxony, and grew up in Reichenau, Lower Silesia (now Bogatynia, Poland), and in Waltersdorf (Zittauer Gebirge), in the Upper Lusatian countryside, where his father worked as a village teacher.

After leaving school at sixteen to work as a practitioner in the field of advertising, he resumes his studies at the Dresden Academy of Art, studying under Karl von Appen, Ulrich Lohmar and Will Grohmann.

From 1957 to 1961 Richter is employed as a teacher in the Academy, during this time, he worked intensively on murals like Arbeiterkampf (Workers' struggle), on oil paintings (e.g. portraits of the East German actress Angelica Domröse and of Richter's first wife Ema), on various self-portraits and on a panorama of Dresden with the neutral name Stadtbild (Townscape, 1956).

A few months before the construction of the Berlin Wall (1961) he and his wife fled to Düsseldorf, in West Germany where he discovers Abstract Expressionism and the trends of the avant-garde, making friends with other artists of his generation.

Since the beginning of his career, the German artist has been investigating the nature of images in the era of globalization, where the boundaries between reality and its reproduction are blurred.

The use of photography as a source of inspiration is closely linked to the choice of an objective and detached view of reality and its representation.

Richter's painting, however, is highly expressive, as it is rich in nuances and intense brushstrokes that contradict the mechanical nature of technical reproduction.

The first Fotobilder (photographic paintings), inaugurated by Tisch in 1962, were born from this research. On amateur photographs, images taken from the news and advertising, the artist intervenes with oil paint.

Among the works related to photography, various thematic cycles can be distinguished:

Stadtbilder (City views), Landschaften (Landscapes), Gebirge (Mountains), Seestücke (Marine), Wolken (Clouds). The source of inspiration for these paintings is Atlas, a monumental collection of sketches, collages and above all photographs of historical, political and social events, but also scenes of life daily family, collected by the artist since the sixties.

In 1972 he represented Germany at the 36th Venice Biennale with 48 portraits based on photos of famous men. Like Andy Warhol, Richter “mechanized” his production, making canvases from “ready-made” images and using the “scraping” technique. In the 1980s, his first abstract works – invariably titled Asbtraktes Bild – added a new dimension to the colorfields of American Abstract Expressionism (Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, etc.). In the early 2000s, his traveling exhibition Forty Years of Painting (curator: Robert Storr) was highly acclaimed at the MoMA. He subsequently became one of the most important painters of his generation and his prices rocketed.

Nearly all of Richter's work demonstrates both illusionistic space that seems natural and the physical activity and material of painting—as mutual interferences. For Richter, reality is the combination of new attempts to understand—to represent; in his case, to paint—the world surrounding us. Richter's opinions and perspectives on his own art, and that of the larger art market and various artistic movements, are compiled in a chronological record of "Writings" and interviews. The following quotes are excerpts from the compilation:

"I am a Surrealist."

"My sole concern is the object. Otherwise I would not take so much trouble over my choice of subjects; otherwise I would not paint at all."

"My concern is never art, but always what art can be used for.

Richter introduced abstraction to his repertoire in the following decades, analyzing painterly expression through a technique of squeegeeing paint over the canvas.

The artist currently lives and works in Cologne, Germany. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Albertina in Vienna, among others.


According to Richter’s turnover in 2020 is €73,918,258.

Between 2011 and 2018, 23 of his works fetched sums above the $20 million threshold. One of them, acquired in 1999 for $607,500 (Abstraktes Bild, Sotheby’s, 18 May 1999) resold for $46.3 million at Sotheby’s in 2015.

In 2012, Richter set a record auction price for a painting sold by a living artist, with his Abstraktes Bild (809-4) (1994) which went for $34 million. He broke this twice again, first in 2013 with Domplatz, Mailand (Cathedral square, Milan) (1968) selling for $37.1 million, then in 2015 by the sale of Abstraktes Bild (1986) for $44.52 million.

Distribution by price (by Artprice)

There are multiple artworks by Richter that are currently listed in upcoming public auctions, some of which include:

Cage (P19-1) (2006)

Chromogenic print

100 x 100 cm

Estimate: € 5,442 - € 7,619

from 23 Mar 2021 to 30 Mar 2021


12.09.94 (1994)

Chromogenic print

9.19 x 14 cm

Estimate: € 25,366 - € 42,277

08 Apr 2021



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