VISIONARIES: WORKS FROM THE EMILY AND JERRY SPIEGEL COLLECTION
“Mixing the colors, finding the right hues, the smell, all these things foster an illusion that this is going to be a wonderful painting.” Gerhard Richter
The warm tonal rendering of light infuses a verdant, luminous landscape where lush shades of greens and browns surround a schober, a traditional German hay barn. Its roof burnished by vivid touches of reds and yellows, while subtle tinting and shading create a shimmering, if serene, effect. The sense of bucolic beauty in Gerhard Richter’s atmospheric evocation in which the depicted scene seems to dissolve in a mist of lyrical brushwork, engages all the senses, optical and tactile, and generates sympathetic ideations of place. “Mixing the colors, finding the right hues, the smell, all these things foster an illusion that this is going to be a wonderful painting” (G. Richter, “I Have Nothing to Say and I’m Saying It: Conversation between Gerhard Richter and Nicolas Serota, Spring 2011,” in Gerhard Richter: Panorama, London, 2011, p. 16). The key word here is “illusion,” for what Richter has achieved is no less than a double vision: the reenactment in paint of a photographic record. A truth, yet also an “untruth:” “My landscapes are not only beautiful or nostalgic, with a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost Paradises, but above all ‘untruthful’ (even if I did not always find a way of showing it); 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 mindless: the total antithesis of ourselves, absolutely inhuman” (G. Richter, “Notes, 1986,” quoted in H-U. Obrist, ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, Cambridge, 1995, p. 124). Yet this takes away nothing from sheer transformative beauty of the work. Richter’s desire to paint something “beautiful” is well documented. Yet his rigorous and systematic confrontations and provocations of the viewing situation, his deflections of identification with the familiar, are embedded here in Schober. For “illusion” is closer to the mark: in a brilliant strategic turn, Richter simultaneously recreates historical photography’s challenge to painting, transcribing facticity into the picturesque, yet leaving the “picturesque” without its illusion. While the chromatic range in works of early photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen was limited, the blur obtained through multiple printing by which the effect of painterliness was achieved, the light and dark contrasts that dissolve matter into mist further suggesting a “half-baffled vision” (C. Caffin, quoted in Camera Work: A Critical Anthology, Millerton, New York, 1973). That “half-baffled vision” describes Richter’s interplay with mediums, the way in which a photograph of a landscape dissolves into painterly abstraction. Schober offers a multiplicity of readings, for viewed from various vantage points colors shade, lighten, and blend in such a way that barn, trees, and grass dematerialize into a vast fields of pure color.
The source photograph is Richter’s own, documented in his Atlas (sheet 426), his massive collection of materials from photos, to newspapers, to sketches that stimulate his working process. “In the beginning I tried to accommodate everything there that was somewhere between art and garbage and that somehow seemed important to me and a pity to throw away” (G. Richter, in Gerhard Richter: Text, Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, London, 2009, p. 332). Along with several photographs of the farm that include not only the haystack and hay barn, but the large barn and views of the surrounding hills and valleys of the Bavarian forest that Richter used as models for additional paintings, there is the single photograph of the Schober. Striking is the uncanniness of the picture/painting dichotomy: it is as if in the painted version Richter placed a scrim over the photograph, one that is evenly tonal, richer, softer, even dimmed. There are no outlines, no edges and, interestingly, no perspectival depth. This is what moves the work into abstraction, the obscuring of fore-, middle-, and background when compared to the source photograph. In particular, the frontal, nearly orthogonal row of hedge that in the photo is clearly distinct from the receding area of hay and grass behind it, and very like the similar horizontal painted by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, in the painting reads as a horizontal green-brown band, the base of a triangular geometry with the hay barn at its apex.
Richter was not casual about his motifs, not in the least indifferent to them. They constitute unmistakable “content” for Richter. “When I look out of the window, then what I see outside is true for me, in its various tones, colors, and proportions. It is a truth and has its own rightness. This excerpt, any excerpt you like for that matter, is a constant demand on me, and it is a model for my pictures” (G. Richter, transl. from “Christiane Vielhaber: Interview with Gerhard Richter,” in Das Kunstwerk, No. 4, 1986, p. 43). He is also fully aware of the historic place this motif occupies in the history genre painting in Western art. The hay barn and stack relate thematically to myriad expressionistic “cottage in landscape” scenes from the German Romantic tradition, such as Caspar David Friedrich’s sepia drawing Cottage with Wanderers, 1799-1800, in which time and space are transcended, to the Barbizon School of delight in the en plein air processes, to Gustav Courbet’s realism, to Van Gogh’s post-impressionist scene, and on to Picasso’s proto-cubist renderings.
What had been an idealization and the vaunting of nature, as a subject of nearly religious absorption in the nineteenth century, becomes for Richter an occasion for aesthetic contemplation. It also is the occasion for redefinitions. “By establishing a familial resemblance to the pictorialism of the later nineteenth century [Richter] oriented himself toward a kind of photograph that itself attempted to imitate the contemporary style of impressionist painting, gaining him the advantages of photography while sustaining the qualities of painting” (D. Elger, Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2010, p. 168). Yet while early photographers sought to acquire the status of fine art by conflating the photographic image with the painted one, Richter had no such ambition. While the photograph is the source for the painted work, it by no means is lost in the transcription into paint. In fact, a certain facticity remains. While far from the practice of photorealism, Schober nonetheless carries with it a photographic quality: “If I disregard the assumption that a photograph is a piece of paper exposed to light, then I am practicing photography by other means… Seen in this way, those of my paintings that have no photographic source (the abstracts, etc.) are also photographs” (G. Richter, quoted in D. Elger, op. cit., p. 168). Thus, Richter here articulates a fundamental truth about his relationship to representation and abstraction: each is a record of Richter’s own imaginative vision realized in the mediums particular to itself, and whether painting or photography, the resultant materialization is only that, nothing else—no back history, no narration, no metaphor, no illusion. “I look for the object and the picture: not for painting or the picture of painting, bur for our picture, our looks and appearances and views, definitive and total. How shall I put it: I want to picture to myself what is going on now. Painting can help in this, and different methods = subjects = themes are the different attempts I make in this direction” (G. Richter, Letter to B. H. D. Buchloh, May 2, 1977, in: The Daily Practice of Painting, H.-U. Obrist, ed., D. Brittl, trans., London 1995, p. 84).
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VISIONARIES: WORKS FROM THE EMILY AND JERRY SPIEGEL COLLECTION
signed, numbered and dated '550-2 Richter 1984' (on the reverse)
Gerhard Richter (B. 1932)
Düsseldorf, Messegelände Halle 13, Von hier aus. Zwei Monate neue deutsche Kunst in Düsseldorf, September-December 1984, p. 433, no. 3 (illustrated).
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Life-size: A Sense of the Real in Recent Art, September-December 1990, pp. 160-161 (illustrated in color).
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland; Stockholm, Moderna Museet and Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Gerhard Richter: Painting 1962-1993, September 1993-August 1994, pp. 88-89 and 188 (Bonn); pp. 103 and 161 (Madrid) (illustrated in color).
A. Pohlen, "'von hier aus'," Kunstforum International, no. 75, September/October 1984, p. 66 (illustrated in color).
A.E.I.U.O., no. 10/11, 1984, p. 96 (illustrated in color).
U. Loock and D. Zacharopoulos, Gerhard Richter, Munich, 1985, p. 47 (illustrated in color).
J. Harten and D. Elger, eds., Gerhard Richter. Bilder/Paintings 1962-1985, exh. cat. and cat. rais., Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 1986, pp. 296 and 398 (illustrated).
Mitografie: Luoghi visibili, invisibili dell'arte, exh. cat., Ravenna, Loggetta Lombardesca, 1987, p. 34 (illustrated).
U. Wilmes, "Über Gerhard Richter. Der Schein der Wirklichkeit im Bild," Künstler: Kritisches Lexikon der Gegenwartskunst, Munich, 1988, p. 12 (illustrated in color).
Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, vol. 2, 1993, p. 89 (illustrated in color).
Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné: 1962-1993, vol. 3, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, no. 550-2 (illustrated in color).
M. Hüllenkremer, "Die Richter Skala," Merian, January 1994, p. 86 (illustrated in color).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter, Maler, Cologne, 2002, p. 329.
W. Spies, Kunstgeschichten. Von Bildern und Künstlern im 20. Jahrhundert, vol. 2, Cologne, 2006, p. 275 (illustrated).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 263.
D. Elger, ed., Gerhard Richter: Landscapes, Ostfildern, 2011, p. 98 (illustrated in color).
D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 3: Nos. 389–651-2 (1976-1987), Ostfildern, 2013, p. 388, no. 550-2 (illustrated in color).
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1985