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Portrait Schmela
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Portrait Schmela
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About the item

Depicting one of the most influential gallerists of post-war Germany, Gerhard Richter’s portrait of Alfred Schmela is an emblematic affirmation of a foundational relationship between dealer and artist and a distinct accolade to one of Richter’s earliest patrons. Ranking among the likes of blue chip dealers such as Leo Castelli, Illeana Sonnabend, and Sidney Janis, Alfred Schmela was instrumental in forging Richter’s place on the international art scene and a prominent figure in the advancement of post-war European art. Launching Richter’s career by presenting the artist’s first solo exhibition in 1964, the gallerist paved the way for Richter to become the world-renowned painter he is today. Congruent with the artist’s first exhibition opening, Schmela prompted Richter to start taking commissions for portraits, a fitting continuation of the artist’s appropriation of photographic source material which Richter had pursued since 1962. The artist went on to paint numerous portraits of art dealers, collectors and artists. The very first paintings from this series were three candid portraits of his patron Alfred Schmela, of which the present work is the first and most compositionally complex, entailing six individual likenesses of the German dealer as caught by the instamatic sequence of a photobooth. The importance of Portrait Schmela within Richter’s seminal oeuvre, and his commended series of Photo-Paintings in particular, is attested to by the work’s extensive literature and exhibition history, having been featured in major shows at an international level, including the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf and the National Portrait Gallery in London.  By the time Gerhard Richter arrived in Dusseldorf in 1961 the city had flourished into a major cultural hub and the gallerist Alfred Schmela had distinguished himself as an important advocator of the European avant-garde. On 31 May 1957 Schmela opened a small gallery on Hunsrückenstraße 16/18 in Dusseldorf’s old city centre, and presented a group of monochromatic paintings by Yves Klein as his debut exhibition (Klein’s first exhibition in Germany). He went on to champion many other German and international avant-gardists, inaugurating the career of blue chip artists such as, Joseph Beuys, Günther Uecker, Heinz Mack and Otto Piene by presenting their first solo exhibitions, as well as debuting the works of Lucio Fontana, Antoni Tàpies, Arman and Jean Tinguely on the German art scene. By the mid-1960s, Schmela was representing some of the most promising European artists of the time and was the first dealer in Dusseldorf to exhibit the works of American artists Robert Motherwell, Sam Francis, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. In 1964 Schmela launched Richter’s career by presenting the artist’s first solo exhibition. Richter commemorated this pivotal event with his 1967 painting titled Galerie (CR 145/2), depicting the empty gallery on Hunsrückenstraße after Schmela moved to a larger space.\nBetween 1962 and 1968 Richter advanced a portrait practice based exclusively on media-derived and family photographs. Seeking to explore the ambiguity that exists between the alleged objectivity of a photograph and the inherent artifice of painting he chose to use photographic source material rather than paint from life. He aspired to imbue his paintings with the impartial and factual documentation inherent to photography, in order to convey an image free from predisposed interpretation or meaning and a painting free from individual artistic expression. Richter's series of portrait commissions, of which he produced a total of around 25, was initiated with three paintings of Alfred Schmela in 1964. Two of these are taken from a candid snapshot of the gallerist in conversation with the collector Eva-Maria Schneider-Esleben and the artist Günther Uecker. One of which currently resides in the collection of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf. Depicting six slightly varying angles of Schmela stacked in a serial format along two rows, the present work is more staged than the zoomed-in profile shot of the other two paintings and its formality demonstrates its origins as a photobooth strip. Although arguably less artful and composed, this photobooth format was favoured by painter Francis Bacon, who advocated the unadorned documentation of appearance and regularly referred to photobooth portraits as source material. Faced by his own reflection in the screen of the photobooth Schmela looks slightly uneasy, smiling at himself whilst trying to adopt the perfect pose. The tightly framed composition and serial quality intrinsic to the photobooth image bears reference to Andy Warhol’s screen-printed Photomat portraits. Commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar to produce a feature called New Faces, New Forces, New Names in the Arts in 1963 Warhol took the subjects for this feature to a Photomat booth. The closely cropped format of these images served as inspiration for several subsequent portraits of New York’s high society, as well as Warhol’s first self-portraits of 1964. Immortalising Schmela in his three frank black and white paintings, Richter preluded the flashy and glamorous portraiture of prominent dealers commenced by Warhol with his first portrait of Sidney Janis in 1967 and soberly commemorated Alfred Schmela as the artistic tastemaker and European art world protagonist he was.\nPainted in titanium white and ebony black, with subtly faded contours, Portrait Schmela is slightly out of focus. Exploring the supposed superiority of photography's ability to replicate reality, Richter blurred the surface of his paintings, an effect that was achieved by dragging a dry brush across the surface of the canvas while the paint was still wet. Paradigmatic of the artist's ongoing investigation into the validity of the painted image, this blurring effect raises greater questions of human perception, as Margrit Behm observes: “In a formal sense the technique is employed to create distance between reality and painting; in terms of content, it is the expression of a painter’s doubt about the possibility of really saying anything about reality” (Margrit Behm, ‘The Constitution of Visual Truth During Painting’, in: Jochen Poetter, Ed., Richter, Polke, Rainer, Baden-Baden 1996, p. 51). Prefacing Richter's subsequent investigations into the infinite possibilities of painting as a presenter of truths the striations of black, grey and white in the background fluctuate between figurative and abstract and were later used as the source image for Richter’s ensuing series of Vorhang (curtain) paintings. His principal desire to elicit a true semblance of perception and reality was a critical preface to the artist’s ongoing investigation into the limits of representation, the nature of perception and the operations of visual cognition that would dominate the entirety of his exceptional oeuvre.\nWith its elusively blurred surface and refined subtlety of grey-scale, Portrait Schmela is a transcendent paradigm of Richter’s acclaimed photo-paintings. Confronting the viewer with a sitter, whose formative role in Richter’s career is indisputable, the work stands as a symbolic archetype for the artist's unparalleled oeuvre. A vital contributor to the making of the artist, who is today recognised as one the greatest painters of his epoch, Alfred Schmela was a true art world hero and his portrait inhabits a primary position within the history of contemporary painting.\nSigned and variously inscribed on the reverse
GB
GB
GB

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Gerhard Richter

condition

Colour: The colour in the printed catalogue is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly warmer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There are a few minute fly spots in isolated places and two spots of media accretion to the extreme left edge and to the shirt of the bottom right portrait. Close inspection reveals a few associated hairline cracks and a minute pinhole towards the centre of the extreme left edge. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals a spot of in-painting in the white border towards the lower edge to the left of the far right portrait. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

dimensions

100 by 130cm.; 39 3/8 by 51 1/8 in.

exhibition

Recklinghausen, Kunsthalle Recklinghausen, Zeitgenossen: Das Gesicht unserer Gesellschaft im Spiegel der heutigen Kunst, 1970, n.p., no. 172, illustrated Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, '60 '80: Attitudes, Concepts, Images, 1982, p. 195, no. 1, illustrated Dusseldorf, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Brennpunkt Düsseldorf. Joseph Beuys, Die Akademie, Der allgemeine Aufbruch, 1962-1987, 1987, p. 13, illustrated Barcelona, Centre Cultural de la Fundació Caixa de Pensions, Punt de confluència – Joseph Beuys, Düsseldorf 1962-1987, 1988, p. 19, illustrated Dusseldorf, K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen; and Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Gerhard Richter, 2005, p. 108, no. 37-1, illustrated London, National Portrait Gallery, Gerhard Richter Portraits: Painting Appearances, 2009, p. 110, illustrated Hamburg, Bucerius Kunst Forum, Gerhard Richter: Bilder einer Epoche, 2011, pp. 144 and 201, no. 28, illustrated in colour

literature

Anon, ‘Colazione con Porcellana’, Domus, Architettura Arredamento Arte, No. 437, April 1966, n.p., installation view Anja Thomas-Netik, Gerhard Richter: Mögliche Aspekte eines postmodernen Bewusstseins, Essen 1986, p. 205, no. 22, illustrated Jürgen Harten, Gerhard Richter: Bilder 1962-1985, Cologne 1986, p. 19, no. 37-1, illustrated Hubertus Butin, Zu Richters Oktober-Bildern, Cologne 1991, p. 23 (text) Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, Gerhard Richter, 1991, p. 15 (text) Angelika Thill, et. al., Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, Vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, n.p., no. 37-1, illustrated in colour Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Maler, Cologne 2002, p. 99, no. 37-1, illustrated; and Cologne 2008, p. 92, illustrated Reinhard Ermen, ‘Aufnehmen, Entwickeln,Vergrössern! Gerhard Richter’, Kunstforum International, No. 175, April/May 2005, p. 286 (text) Stefan Gronert, Ed., Gerhard Richter: Portraits, Ostfildern-Ruit 2006, n.p., no. 55, illustrated Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, London 2009, p. 75, illustrated Robert Storr, Gerhard Richter: The Cage Paintings, London 2009, p. 43, illustrated Dietmar Elger, PATRIMONIA 344: Porträt Dr. Knobloch. Gerhard Richter’s Malerei als Schein, Berlin 2009, p. 15, no. 4, illustrated Julia Friedrich, Grau ohne Grund: Gerhard Richter’s Monochromien als Herausforderung der künstlerischen Avantgarde, Cologne 2009, pp. 147-48 (text) Francis Hodgson, ‘Maximum Exposure’, Financial Times, 2 May 2009, p. 10 (text) Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter, Paris 2010, p. 57, illustrated in colour Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter in der Dresdner Galerie, Dresden 2010, p. 16 (text) Hubertus Butin, Gerhard Richter: Volker Bradke, Cologne 2010, p. 15, illustrated in colour Brigitte Kölle, Es geht voran: Kunst der 80er: Eine Düsseldorfer Perspektive, Dusseldorf 2010, p. 44, illustrated in colour Exhibition Catalogue, Dusseldorf, Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Faszinierende Dokumente – Künstler in Aktion, 2011, p. 149, no. 162, installation view  Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1968, Vol. I, Ostfildern 2013, pp. 112-13, no. 37-1, illustrated in colour Exhibition Catalogue, Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Gerhard Richter: Pictures/Series, 2014, p. 20, illustrated

provenance

Alfred Schmela, Dusseldorf  Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in the late 1960s

signedDate

Signed and variously inscribed on the reverse

consignmentDesignation

Property from an Important European Collection

creator_nationality_dates

B. 1932


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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