Under The Hammer: Top Prices Paid For Gerhard Richter At Auction

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Cage f.ff VI by Gerhard RichterCage f.ff VI © Gerhard Richter 2015
Celine Fraser

Celine Fraser, Junior Broker

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Despite a minor dip in the market regarding the price of Gerhard Richter’s artwork, he has recently fallen back into favour at auction. In the aftermath of a huge 2015 retrospective, Richter’s large abstract works reached dizzyingly high prices, peaking with a US$46 million sale at Sotheby’s. Though his work seems to have slightly plateaued in terms of record prices, Richter's prints, paintings, and photography do consistently well in both the primary and secondary market.

Here we list Richter's most expensive works:

£30.4M for Abstraktes Bild (1986)

Abstraktes Bild by Gerhard RichterImage © 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.

£29.6M for Abstraktes Bild (1994)

(US$36500000)

Abstraktes Bild by Gerhard RichterImage © 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.

£29.6M for Abstraktes Bild (809-4)

($36,500,000)

Abstraktes Bild 809-4 by Gerhard Richter 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.

£27.3M for A B, Still

(US$33,987,500)

A B, Still by Gerhard Richter Image © Sotheby's / A B, Still © Gerhard Richter 1986

A B, Still stole the show at Sotheby’s postwar and contemporary art sale, selling for almost US$34million. It was one of seven Richter paintings to sell on the night, all of which came from the private collection of Steven Ames, partner at Oppenheimer & Co., who originally purchased the work for just US$264,000 in 1991. A.B., Still was not the largest Richter work to sell on the night (a title taken by the 8.5ft tall A.B. St. James), but stands at more than 7ft tall and features Richter’s distinctive carefully layered abstract oil paint.

£24.7M for Abstraktes Bild (636)

(US$32,000,000)

Abstraktes Bild (636) by Gerhard RichterImage © Sotheby's / Abstraktes Bild (636) © Gerhard Richter 1987

The imposing diptych Abstraktes Bild (636) is one of only 18 paintings from Richter’s distinctive and extensive series of abstract work that measures more than 100 inches in both height and width. Only five works by the artist still resides in private collections at the time, including this one, so its entrance onto the auction scene was highly anticipated.

Since the year it was created in 1987, it had been privately housed in a collection in Europe after a brief spell in a gallery. Being hidden from the spotlight for so long resulted in a high auction estimate of US$30million, which was exceeded.

£24.6M for Seestück (Seascape)

($30,198,500)

Seestück (Seascape) by Gerhard RichterSeestück (Seascape) © Gerhard Richter 1975

From his very first Seestück (Seascape) painting in 1968, Richter's extensive portfolio of panoramic seascape artworks has amounted to nearly 25 pieces. Measuring 200cm by 300cm, his 1975 Seestück (Seascape) has seen considerable success at auction for £24.6million in The Macklowe Collection at Sotheby's in New York on 16 May 2022. This oil on canvas depicts a tranquil view of the sea, hints of the vivid blue sky peeking through the dense cloud cover, and the horizon blending seamlessly with the sea in a profusion of greyish hues. It is truly an exemplary piece that has a definite ephemeral quality that one could only find in Richter's works.

£24.6M for Abstraktes Bild (797-2)

(US$33,010,500)

Abstraktes Bild (797-2) by Gerhard RichterImage © Sotheby's / Abstraktes Bild 797-2 © Gerhard Richter 1993

Abstraktes Bild (797-2) sold as part of the most expensive single-owner sale in auction history at Sotheby’s New York in 2021. The Macklowe Collection white-glove sale featured 35 artworks from artists across America and Europe, which realised a total of US$676,055,00.

Abstraktes Bild (797-2) was purchased by private London collector, Francis Outred, and exceeded its own individual estimate of US$20-30million. The mixed red, yellow, and blue tones featured in this colour-rich oil painting are exemplary of Richter’s abstract works and contributed to its popularity; as did its notable 94.25sq inch size.

£24.2M for Domplatz, Mailand (Cathedral Square, Milan)

(US$37,125,000)

Domplatz, Mailand by Gerhard Richter Image © Sotheby's / Domplatz, Mailand © Gerhard Richter 1998

Richter’s Domplatz, Mailand (Cathedral Square, Milan) set a new record for living artists when it sold for over US$37million to a Napa Valley vineyard owner in 2013.

The previous record was held by Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (809-4) in 2012, and the artist went on to break his own record again with a piece from the same series in 2015. Domplatz, Mailand, originally commissioned for an office space by Siemens, is a perfect example of Richter’s 1960s photo-painting style, with blurred black-and-white detail and enormous 3 m by 3 m dimensions.

£21.4M for Abstraktes Bild (649-2)

Abstraktes Bild (649-2) by Gerhard RichterImage © Sotheby's / Abstraktes Bild 649-2 © Gerhard Richter 1987

Abstraktes Bild (649-2) was one of the spotlight artworks at Sotheby’s first live-streamed contemporary art evening sale, alongside Banksy’s Forgive Us Our Trespassing.

Selling for over £21 million to The Pola Museum of Art in Hakone, Japan, the artwork also achieved the highest ever price for any western artwork sold in Asia. The piece smashed its presale estimates of HK$120-HK$140million when the hammer came down, paying testament to the ongoing popularity of Richter’s best-loved series of works. Many new standards were set that evening, with eight other artist records broken.

£20.5M for Düsenjäger

(US$25,565,000)

Düsenjäger by Gerhard RichterImage © Sotheby's / Düsenjäger © Gerhard Richter 1963

Richter’s Düsenjäger depicts a fighter jet blurred as if in motion, an effect created by the artist’s trademark squeegee technique. The piece sold as the top lot at the Phillips 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in November 2016. Though unconfirmed, the previous owner was rumoured to have been tech billionaire Paul Allen, who is said to have purchased the piece in 2007 for less than half of its 2016 selling price. The piece is a stunning example of Richter’s photo-painting technique and is one of eight paintings depicting military aircraft. Düsenjäger stands out from the rest of the series thanks to its use of colour, while most of the others have strictly monochrome palettes.

£20.3M for Abstraktes Bild (680-1)

(US$27,185,000)

Abstraktes Bild by Gerhard Richter Image © Sotheby's / Abstraktes Bild 649-2 © Gerhard Richter 1987

At the 20th Century Evening Sale at Christie’s New York, Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (680-1) sold for US$27,185,000.

The artwork stood out for its scale, its vibrancy, and its analysis and demonstration of painting as a process. In true Richter style, his technique of layering, mixing, and then pulling away the oil paint can be clearly seen; in this case, the colour is primarily bright yellow, but visibly mixes with red and blue before the viewer’s eyes. Richter’s work was in good company on the night, with the top lot being Andy Warhol’s portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat, which achieved US$40,091,500.

£19.9M for Abstraktes Bild (648-3)

(US$31,525,000)

Abstraktes Bild (648-3) by Gerhard RichterImage © Christie's / Abstraktes (648-3) © Gerhard Richter 1993

The Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale held at Christie’s New York on 12 November 2014 achieved the highest total in auction history to date, with lots selling for a combined value of US$535,986,570. Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (648-3) achieved US$31,525,000 on the night, but was not the only Richter piece to sell. The US$16,965,000 proceeds from the sale of Abstraktes Bild (774-4) went towards building an arts campus for the Linda Pace Foundation in San Antonio, Texas. Abstraktes Bild (648-3) is an imposing piece, standing at over 2 m tall and 2 m wide, demonstrating Richter’s well-known textured play of abstract colours.

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