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Contemporary art

Western art

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Abstract painting (812)



Gerhard Richter


09 Feb 1932 -


Richter's early paintings gave Pop Art a political edge. His subject matter was often based on news print photographs mimicking the blurring of surveillance images taken from a moving car. Richter's origins in Eastern Germany gave this quality a more personal resonance. His painting's relationship to photography has remained constant even though his subject matter has varied from landscape, to historical paintings, to apparently minimalist abstraction. It is not the accuracy of the image that interests him but on the contrary the potential for blurring, loss of focus and definition that it produces.

In his installation 'Atlas' at DIA in New York and later at Documenta 1997 Richter displayed a vast array of small photos taken as if for a sketchbook. These included hundreds of images of textures, clouds, seas, tiles, brickwork, trees, and so on. These were sometimes painted over, sometimes re-photographed so that the layering of photograph and paint became inextricably conflated. The textures and colours of the worked photos bore a striking resemblance to the repertoire of marks and colours of Richter's abstract paintings.

This repertoire is translated into a painterly tradition that is connected to Titian and Velasquez and so through Monet to Rothko. This tradition is partially expressed in the Baroque tendency to break the surface of the paint and blur the image to stimulate imaginative interpretation by the viewer. In spite of his relation to tradition, Richter has one strong affiliation with Minimalism. He emphasises process and paint as stuff rather than as a medium for pictorial composition. This is particularly evident in the abstractions where the paint is dragged onto the canvas with a squeegee.

In 'Abstract painting (812)' he has used only one colour in the over painting, it has been dragged across the stretched canvas on which an earlier darker composition had been laid down. In the process he emphasises the underlying materiality of painting by revealing the horizontal stretcher bars. The rich yellow of this top coat produces a summery, buttery, glow. This glow is accentuated by glimpses of the underpainting that hint at deep space beyond the surface and as electric flashes against the yellow.




Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas


250.0 x 200.0 cm

Signature & date

Signed and dated verso "...Richter 1994".


Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation Purchase 1999


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Gerhard Richter

Works in the collection


Shown in 7 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 9 publications


Anthony Bond, Self portrait: Renaissance to contemporary, 'Gerhard Richter', pg.200-1, London, 2005, 200 (colour illus.). fig.63, illustrated in reference to, 'Self-portrait' 1996 (MoMA)

Peter Gidal, Gerhard Richter: painting in the nineties, 'The polemics of paint', London, 1995, 85 (colour illus.). 24

Ewen McDonald (Editor), Biennale of Sydney 2000, Sydney, 2000, 104, 105 (colour illus.). no catalogue numbers

Kazuo Nakabayashi, A perspective on contemporary art: painting - singular object, 'Gerhard Richter', p 57-67, Tokyo, 1995, 65 (colour illus.). 25

Martin Hentschel and Helmut Friedel, Gerhard Richter 1998, London, 1998, (colour illus.), 104.

Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum and Munch Museet (Curators), Munch and after Munch, Amsterdam, 1996.

Wayne Tunnicliffe, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Cultural memory, critical distance', pg.154-203, Sydney, 2006, 190, 191 (colour illus.).

Michael Wardell, Look, 'Foundation building', pg.14-17, Sydney, Sep 2004, 17.

Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 1999, 'Director's Introduction', pg. 5-7, Sydney, 1999, 6, 21.