German artist Gerhard Richter constantly challenges traditional painting techniques in his work, creating an entirely unique output that spans everything from abstract painting to photography. If you are looking to buy or sell a Richter original print or edition, browse artwork available from our network and enquire to speak to the team. We offer free and confidential valuations and market advice on any Richter print, with zero obligation to sell.
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Unrestrained by any one visual style, German artist Gerhard Richter’s art spans abstraction to photorealism, glasswork to photography. Richter’s eclectic work is rich in varied media, from his famous reproductions of both banal and historic photography to his sheer panes of glass and church windows.
Born in 1932 in Dresden, Richter’s upbringing was shaped by the war and death that surrounded him. Though originally trained in the strict Socialist-Realist style, it is perhaps unsurprising that he would go on to produce work that advocates for the death of painting.
After the war, Richter was based in East Germany, where he studied mural painting at the Dresden Art Academy from 1951. Later, after a spell in Moscow, he decided to defect to West Germany, where he made a living building carnival floats and painting theatre sets, before studying at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. It was here that he began his art career in earnest.
After some initial disappointments, Richter’s career began to take off in the mid-1960s and 1970s, when he started using photographs from magazines and newspapers to inspire his paintings. These works that established him as a notable artist and led to exhibitions across Germany in 1964 and 1965. Moving into the 21st century, Richter became increasingly focused on abstraction, transparency, narrative, and a return to the bold colours of his early career. He revisited the medium of glass to blur the lines between wall-based art and sculpture, in series such as Eight Grey, works such as Pane of Glass (2002), and in commissioned stained-glass windows.
In 2005, Richter released a painting based on a photograph of the attacks on the World Trade Center of 11th September 2001. He deliberately erased the point of impact and left it up to the viewer’s knowledge to fill in the narrative. This idea of narrative is key to all of his later abstract works; Richter’s paintings give an indication of the story, and the reader creates the rest.
To this day, Richter is one of the most recognised artists of the 20th century. Richter’s art has been presented in exhibitions all over the world. In 1993-94, the first retrospective of Richter’s work travelled through Bonn, Stockholm, Madrid, and Paris; and, in 2002, to mark the 70th anniversary of Richter’s career, a second was held at the MoMA in New York. Since 2010, many more exhibitions have been held at prestigious galleries across the globe, including Wako Works of Art in Tokyo, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, and The Drawing Center in New York.
Image © Sotheby's / Abstraktes Bild © Gerhard Richter 1986
When Abstraktes Bild (1986) sold for £30.4 million at Sotheby's in 2015, it set the record for highest sale price achieved by a living European artist, and on the day after Gerhard Richter’s own 83rd birthday. The painting was the star of the night and far surpassed its £14–£20million estimate.
Richter created the piece by heavily layering oil paints on canvas and then pulling excess paint away using a wooden board and a homemade wooden squeegee. The artwork was known for being one of Richter’s personal favourites, which added to its collectability. It is also one of Richter’s largest abstract works, measuring 9ft 10in by 8ft 2in.
Image © Christie's / Abstraktes Bild © Gerhard Richter, 1994
Despite the vast array of subjects his art touches upon, Richter confessed to being fond of painting abstract canvases, which bring him joy like no other. The same fondness for colourful abstraction seems to be also true for Richter’s collectors, who never miss the chance to engage in a fierce bidding war.
Such was the case for Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (1994). The expansive scale of the painting, measuring around 7 feet square, and its vivid use of colours and brash brushstrokes, led it to achieve an astounding USD 36,500,000 (over £30 million) when it sold on 10 May 2022 at Christie’s New York, making it the second most expensive Richter work to have gone under the hammer.
Image © Sotheby's / Abstraktes Bild 809-4 © Gerhard Richter 1994
In 2012, Abstraktes Bild (809-4) set a new record price for a living artist at auction. A record that Richter then went on to break in 2013, and once again in 2015. The piece was formerly part of Eric Clapton’s art collection, which added to the prestige of an already sought-after example of Richter’s intense and colourful, abstract works.
An anonymous bidder purchased the piece for almost double its high estimate, demonstrating Richter’s enduring international appeal. The artwork is quintessential of Richter’s Abstraktes Bild series, exemplifying the scale of these works as well as the artist’s unique focus on making his technique of using wooden boards, a homemade squeegee, and oil paints, clear on the canvas itself.
This oil on canvas has since been resold in the 21st Century Art Evening Sale on 10 May 2022 in Christie's, New York, for a staggering £29.6million.
Image © Sotheby's / A B, Still © Gerhard Richter 1986