A seminal work of sublime magnitude and grandeur, Gerhard Richter’s 1970 masterpiece Wolken (Fenster) stands as one of the largest and most important paintings in the artist’s landmark early series of cloudscapes. Spread across four magisterial panels, Richter’s panoramic vista captures the hallowed splendour of the early evening sky, observed as if through a vast set of windows. An exquisite palette of gold, azure and ivory creates an intense luminosity, invoking an aura of profound reverence and transcendental calm. Golden beams of sunlight emerge from behind the clouds, casting their warm rays upon the twilit shadows and conjuring a sense of romantic hope. The clouds revolve around the glowing centre of the composition in an unending play of light and shade, fronted by a surging bank of darkness that creates a deep sense of perspective. Overwhelming the viewer through its monumental scale, the work pays homage to the German Romantic artistic tradition, evoking the awe and sublimity of nature that inspired the great nineteenth-century poets and painters. Situated at a pivotal moment in Richter’s early body of photo-paintings, Wolken (Fenster) recasts this legacy within the artist’s interrogation of image-making. On one hand a virtuosic display of sumptuous photographic realism, the painting’s articulation as a window onto reality performs a striking conceptual move, indicative of the artist’s increasing dialogue with abstraction. Softening his image at the edges, Richter casts the white edges of each panel as the gridded lines of the window. Yet as we move closer, this architectural illusion dissolves to reveal the base materiality of the primed canvas. As we peer into the radiant depths of the clouds, they too recede from our grasp, disintegrating into an abstract painterly haze. Through extreme technique, the spell is subtly broken: Richter’s cloudscape is placed tantalizingly out of reach. Elegiac and enigmatic, Wolken (Fenster) represents a unique meditation on the concepts of reality and fiction that lie at the heart of Richter’s oeuvre.
Wolken (Fenster) is situated at the dawn of one of Richter’s most intensely creative and exploratory periods. The artist began his series of cloud paintings in 1968, basing his works on photographic studies that he documented in his personal scrapbook of source images Atlas. It was at this time that Richter began to use his own photographs as inspiration, moving beyond the ‘found’ images from everyday post-War Germany that had driven his photo-paintings during the earlier part of the decade. Having previously grounded these works in explicitly figural subject matter, Richter began to move towards increasingly abstract motifs: aerial views of cities, blurred landscapes, tranquil seascapes and the cloudscapes. Over the course of the 1970s, Richter would make the complex and multifaceted journey towards the series of Abstraktes Bilder that was to occupy his oeuvre throughout the 1980s and 1990s. By taking as their subject an inherently ephemeral yet instantly recognizable subject, the cloudscapes provided a unique forum for Richter to explore the flux and multiplicity of reality. Indeed, the very nature of clouds themselves – formal structures composed of invisible atmospheric transience – speaks directly to the core of Richter’s practice. In this regard, the cloud paintings may be understood as a conceptual touchstone within Richter’s practice, paving the way for an oeuvre that would continually strive to exist in the same elusive space between abstraction and figuration – between form and dissolution.
It was through the cloud paintings that Richter was first truly able to experiment with the optical effects of colour he would later enshrine. With its delicate and evocative palette, Wolken (Fenster) is among the most vivid of these early explorations. Departing from the monochromaticism that had characterised his earlier photo-paintings, Richter translates immaculate photorealism into light-suffused visions, elegantly blending a nuanced spectrum of coloured tones across the surface of his canvas. The full effect of this chromatic virtuosity is realised through the work’s imposing scale. Through their transcendental subject matter, the cloud paintings naturally lent themselves to magnified formats, and in 1971, drawing upon his early training as a muralist, Richter began to draft designs for a utopian series of rooms subsumed by monumental cloudscapes. Intending to overwhelm the onlooker through the sheer scale of his optical play, Richter explained ‘That is a such a dream of mine – that the picture will become an environment or become architecture’ (G. Richter, quoted in D. Dietrich, ‘An Interview’, Print Collector’s Newsletter, September/ October 1985, p. 130). Explicitly articulated as a window, Wolken (Fenster) represents a direct embodiment of this fantasy: embedded into the very structure of the wall upon which it hangs, the work forces us to question whether the optical theatrics of the clouds are not in fact illusory, but rather constitute a direct vision of the sky. As Diether Honisch suggested in 1972, the artist’s unique skill creates ‘pictures [that] are windows leading into the beautiful world; they bring us the idyllic, dramatic and elegiac response to our emotional desire; they carry it into the showroom, right through the wall in front of which we are standing’ (D. Honisch, Gerhard Richter, Essen 1972, p. 11).
Wolken (Fenster) represents one of the artist’s most direct confrontations with the German Romantic tradition, epitomized in the art of Caspar David Friedrich. As the artist once asserted, ‘a painting by Caspar David Friedrich is not a thing of the past. What is past is only the set of circumstances that allowed it to be painted: specific ideologies, for example. Beyond that, if it is any “good”, it concerns us – transcending ideology – as art that we consider worth the trouble of defending (perceiving, showing, making). It is therefore quite possible to paint like Caspar David Friedrich today’ (G. Richter, quoted in Gerhard Richter Landscapes, exh. cat., Sprengel Museum, Hannover, 1998, p. 12). We can particularly see the affinity with Wolken (Fenster) in Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818. The critical difference, however, lies in the assumptions made by each artist about humanity’s role in Nature. In Friedrich’s painting, we see a person casting his eye over a dramatic natural vista replete with clouds and misty horizon. Friedrich positions man squarely in the composition’s centre, projecting human emotion onto the natural environment. In Wolken (Fenster) by contrast, there is no such figure in the picture. No matter how close we get to Richter’s painting, we are never able to alleviate our own alienation from Nature. Indeed physical proximity only renders the view more unobtainable, the picture disintegrating before our eyes into an abstract, painterly composition of coloured elements. For Richter, all Nature is fundamentally outside the human purview and beyond any religious claims. In this way, Richter emphatically rejects what John Ruskin called the ‘Romantic fallacy’, and subverts the traditional associations of Romantic landscape painting.
As Richter has said of his landscapes, ‘[they] are not only beautiful or nostalgic, with a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost Paradises, but above all “untruthful” ... and by “untruthful” I mean the glorifying way we look at Nature - Nature, which in all its forms is always against us because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely inhuman. Every beauty that we see in landscape ... is our projection; and we can switch it off at a moment’s notice, to reveal only the appalling horror and ugliness’ (G. Richter, quoted in J. Nestegrad (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Art of the Impossible - Paintings 1964- 1998, Oslo 1999). By containing his vast expanse of sky within a formal, window-like grid, Richter distances the viewer from both the subject matter itself and from the art-historical context it evokes. The sublime is removed from our immediate grasp, relegated to the outside and, ultimately, to the past. As Dietmar Elger has suggested, ‘in this sense all Gerhard Richter’s landscapes are visual models of a lost truth and this complements his Abstract Paintings, which he himself has described as “fictive” models for the “nonvisual”’ (D. Elger, Gerhard Richter Landscapes, exh cat., Sprengel Museum, Hannover, 1998, p. 21). In spite of this, Wolken (Fenster) captivates with its beauty, compelling the viewer to gaze at it. As Richter confessed, ‘for us, everything is empty. Yet, these paintings are still there. They still speak to us. We continue to love them, to use them, to have need of them’ (G. Richter, quoted in Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., New York, 2002, p. 68).
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
Oil on canvas, in four parts
Please note that all lots should be marked with a dagger symbol. This means that unless exported out of the EU within 90 days of collection or unless you are VAT registered in, and will ship to, another EU State, VAT of 20% will be payable on the hammer price and buyer’s premium. Please see the conditions of sale in the back of the catalogue for further guidance or contact Neil Millen (firstname.lastname@example.org / 0771 769 3835) for information on VAT refunds.
(iv) signed and dated 'Richter 1970' (on the reverse)
Gerhard Richter , 1970s, Paintings, oil, Germany, Contemporary, Post War, landscape
Bonn, Städtisches Kunstmuseum, Ulbricht Collection, 1982-1983, p. 29. This exhibition later travelled to Dusseldorf, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf and Graz, Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum.
Goslar, Mönchehaus-Museum für Moderne Kunst, Gerhard Richter: Goslaer Kaiserringträger, 1988.
Hamburg, Kunstverein Hamburg, Landschaftsbilder, 1989, p. 81 (illustrated in colour, p. 66).
Bonn, Ministerium für Bundesangelegenheiten des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, Zeitzeichen. Stationen Bildender Kunst in Nordrhein-Westfalen, 1989-1990, p. 571, no. 138 (illustrated in colour, p. 86). This exhibition later travelled to Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste und Galerie der Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst and Duisburg, Wilhelm-Lehmbruck-Museum der Stadt Duisburg.
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Gerhard Richter-Paintings, 1995, no. 266, p. 287, no. 18 (illustrated in colour, pp. 30-31
Baden-Baden, Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Frieder Burda Collection. Gerhard Richter. Sigmar Polke. Arnulf Rainer, 1996, p. 287, no. 18(illustrated p. 30-31).
Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Gerhard Richter, 1996-1997.
Klosterneuburg, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, Sammlung Essl - the first view, 1999, p. 392 (illustrated in colour, pp. 156-157).
Klosterneuburg, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, Permanent 01, 2000.
Klosterneuburg, Sammlung- Kunst der Gegenwart, Essl Museum, Augenblick - Foto, 2002, p. 163 (illustrated in colour, pp. 118-119).
Klosterneuburg, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, Passion for Art: 35th Anniversary of the Essl Collection, vol. II, 2007 (illustrated in colour, pp. 220-221).
Klosterneuburg, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, Vier Tage Sammlung Essl, 2009.
Klosterneuburg, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, Baselitz Bis Lassnig: Meisterhafte Bilder, 2008, pp. 150, 151 and 196 (illustrated in colour, pp. 154-155).
Vienna, Leopold Museum, Wolken: Welt des fluchtigen, 2013, p. 351 (illustrated in colour, pp. 290-291).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
each: 78¾ x 39 3/8in. (200 x 100cm.) overall: 78¾ × 157 3/8in. (200 × 400cm.)
R. Block, Graphik des Kapitalistischen Realismus, Berlin 1971, no. 39 (illustrated).
XXXVI Biennale Internationale dell'Arte, exh. cat., Venice, German Pavilion, 1972, pp. 11 and 42 (illustrated p. 72.)
J. Harten (ed.) and D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Bilder 1962-1985, exh. cat., Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf 1986, p. 377, no. 266 (illustrated in colour, p. 119).
A. Zweite, 'Gerhard Richters Atlas der Fotos, Collagen und Skizzen' in Gerhard Richter, Atlas, Munich 1989, p. 13.
Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ed.), Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné: 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, p. 160, no. 266 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
'Sammlung Essl', in Parnass Kunstmagazin, Vienna 1999, p. 115.
B. Corà, B. Bulchloh, J.F. Chevrier and I. Moscati (eds.), Gerhard Richter, exh, cat. Prato, Centro per l'Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, 1999-2000, p. 16-17 and 30.
A. Rorimer, New Art in the 60s and 70s, Redefining Reality, London 2001, pp. 51-52.
'Thema: Fotografie', in Parnass Kunstmagazin, Vienna 2002, p. 84.
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter, Maler, Cologne 2002, p. 276.
Wolkenbilder, Von John Constable bis Gerhard Richter, Aarau, Aargauer Kunsthaus, 2005 (illustrated in colour, p. 168).
P. Kaiser, 'The Recollection Issue - the Essl Collection', in Parabol Art Magazine, 2007 (illustrated in colour, pp. 39-40).
J. Benhamou-Huet and E. Lawlor, Collectionneurs du monde, Paris 2008 (illustrated in colour, pp. 140-141).
J. Stückelberger, 'Der Himmel als Zufall - Gerhard Richter' in Wolkenbilder, Deutungen des Himmels in der Moderne, Munich 2010 (illustrated, p. 331).
Stiftung Südtiroler Sparkasse (eds.), Natur als Inspiration: Ausgewählte werke aus der sammlung essl, Bozen 2011, p. 19,
no. 10 (illustrated in colour, p. 18).
Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich.
Ulbricht Collection, Dusseldorf.
Achenbach Art Consulting, Dusseldorf.
Frieder Burda, Baden Baden.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 18 November 1997, lot 126.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.