Executed on a monumental scale, Stuhl (Chair) is a highly sophisticated painting which epitomises Richter's ground breaking fluctuation between realist and abstract modes of expression. Its title immediately recalls Richter's first acknowledged painting and artistic statement in his oeuvre, entitled Tisch (Table), which took as its source a bland, everyday photograph of a simple table and turned this into the basis of a photo-real painting in black and white, the very first of his so-called Photo Paintings. What was interesting about this painting was the fact that having made a painstaking replication of the original photograph, Richter then employed a series of abstract gestures over the top which erased elements of the realism and replaced it with relative abstraction. Following that painting, Richter embarked on a project of more refined, delicate blurring of the painted photo-real image, which led to him being branded a European Pop artist. However, his painting always contained a much deeper meaning than this and it was not until the end of the 1960s that his real contribution to the history of art would become clear as he began to investigate a number of different styles of painting. The consummate Post Modern painter, Richter began to excavate the history of the medium and became an extraordinary technician in all areas.
From Minimalism and Constructivism to Abstraction, Richter's painting began to excavate many areas beyond the mere fact of figurative painting in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s but it was in the 1980s that he made his boldest breakthroughs in abstraction. As he bacame more confident, he embarked on larger scale canvases and here the sheer scale of the 2 by 2metre canvas, provides a field on which to articulate his most ambitious abstract ideas.
Grounded with a gorgeous sea of blue graduating to white, one could read the lower layer as a hint of figurative space. However, over the top, Richter has constructed a series of grand gestures which aggressively disrupt this space. Using at times a long straight edge, layered with paint, and at others a large brush executed at distance from the canvas, he has gradually built the painted surface in a blaze of red and yellow jutting in from the right side. The image is transformed by the vibrant colours and exciting brushstrokes which simultaneously articulate and disrupt the image, at times seeming to dart across the wide engulfing canvas. The painting is a bit taller than the average human height and these strokes have a somewhat human scale, hence although the body is not present it is hinted at. Over the top, the most simplified linear depiction of a chair form appears to the right centre. Stretching from top to bottom, the shape mimics that of his 1965 painting Stuhl im Profil (Stool in Profile).
The thick strident vertical and horizontal marks create a wide and richly textured expanse and vibrant array of vivid tones, showing Richter's unique capability and great subtlety with the medium of paint. Moving away from the predominant abstract form of the time, Abstract Expressionism, Richter here does not stress the flatness of the space, rather its endless possiblities. Through his virtuoso and delicate handling of paint, and the proximity between abstraction and figuration, Richter forces distance between the image and its audience to focus our eye on issues of perception and conception. The large format of the canvas, and its bold, sweeping brushstrokes, physically inscribe the presence of the artist in the picture plane. What results from his depiction is an embodiment of Richter's main concern in all his works, in which he questions the entire theory and practice of painting in the contemporary age. Richter has experimented, meshed, and challenged the perceptions of varied artistic approaches, expressing life's temporality and humanity's struggle with memory of the self. Whether examined in isolation or within his diverse oeuvre, Stuhl provides important insight to our perception and understanding of art.
Oil on canvas
Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Berlin, Nationalgalerie; Bern, Kunsthalle; Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst, Gerhard Richter: Paintings 1962-1985, 1986, p. 324, no. 575-3, illustrated
200 by 200cm. 78 3/4 by 78 3/4 in.
Jürgen Harten, Ed., Gerhard Richter: Paintings 1962-1985, Cologne 1986, p. 324 & 401, no. 573-3, illustrated
Angelika Thill, et al., Gerhard Richter Catalogue Raisonné, 1962-1993, Ostfildern-Ruit 1993, Vol. III, no. 575-3, illustrated in colour
Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1985