Gerhard Richter
Biography of Contemporary German Painter.

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Gerhard Richter (b.1932)


Early Life and Training
Mature Career
Stained Glass Art
Solo Exhibitions

For other neo-expressionist works like
those by Gerhard Richter, see:
Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.



One of the greatest 20th century painters, the German artist Gerhard Richter is known for his abstract art (Abstraktes Bild) and his photo-based painting, as well as his stained glass art, although he is arguably best known as an exponent of Neo-Expressionism - a style of postmodernist art that emerged in the late 1970s, led by artists like A.R.Penck (b.1939) and Rainer Fetting (b.1949). In 2013, his 1968 photorealist painting "Domplatz, Mailand" (Cathedral Square, Milan) was sold at Sotheby's New York for $37.1 million, a world record for a living artist. Richter's high reputation among both art critics and art collectors is based largely on his technical abilities and inventiveness, although it may also be partly due to his pragmatic view that art has a limited power to transform society - a view somewhat at odds with Germany's previous artistic icon Joseph Beuys (1921–1986). Frequently exhibited in the best galleries of contemporary art, Richter is the leading figure among Germany's top contemporary artists, who include Georg Baselitz (b.1938), Anselm Kiefer (b.1945) and Jorg Immendorff (b.1945).

Early Life and Training

Born in Dresden, in present-day East Germany, he left school to become an apprentice as an advertising and stage-set painter, before training at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts (1952-56), under Karl von Appen, Heinz Lohmar and Will Grohmann. As part of his acadamic course he produced two murals - Communion with Picasso (1955) and Lebensfreude (Joy of life) (1956) - In 1961 he escaped to the West, and studied at the Academy in Dusseldorf, under Karl Otto Gotz. (He later returned to the Academy in 1971, where he taught as a professor for over 15 years.) During his early career of the early 1960s, Richter was introduced to American and British Pop art, a style which was just becoming known in Europe, and also to the Dadaist Fluxus movement and its Happenings, founded by the Lithuanian-born American art theorist George Maciunas (1931-78). It was during this early period that he, with Sigmar Polke and Konrad Fischer, founded "Kapitalistischer Realismus" (Capitalistic Realism), a style of contemporary art which relied upon the pictorial shorthand of advertising. It also alluded to the idiom known as Socialist Realism, then the official art style of the USSR, as well as the consumer-oriented ideology of western capitalism.

Mature Career

Also during the 1960s, he started painting enlarged copies of black-and-white photographs using only grey colours. This technique of making paintings from found photos was one he continued to refine for more than 25 years. His most famous images of this type were created in 1989 from photos of the bodies of Red Army Faction terrorists, found hanged in their cells. Richter's use of such ready-made sources gave his works an apparent objectivity that he felt abstract art lacked. At the same time, the ghostly character of these indistinct images that emerges during their transformation with thick layers of paint, helps to liberate them from their customary associations, and maintains an ambivalent tension between imagination and reality - another favourite Richter theme. Indeed Richter has maintained a lifelong fascination for the question as to which medium - photography or painting - offers a more complete version of reality.

During the mid-1970s, Richter abandoned all traces of representational art and began to create a style of abstract painting completely devoid of subject-matter - a style referred to by the umbrella term "Neo-Expressionism" or sometimes "New Image Painting". But even these "invented" paintings retain a second-hand look, as though the brushwork has been taken from photographs.

Stained Glass Art

Richter's 2007 design for a stained glass window for Cologne Cathedral replaced one of clear glass, in use since the war. His abstract design of 11,200 panes of coloured glass was created by random computer generation. It sought to demonstrate that what appears to be coincidence is part of a divine design. However, the Roman Catholic Cardinal Joachim Meisner objected, citing his preference for the inclusion of Saints Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein - both murdered by the Nazis. He commented that Richter's glass design belonged in a mosque rather than a Christian church, saying: "it should be one that reflects our faith, not just any faith." (See also: Stained Glass Materials and Methods.)

Overall, one might characterize Richter as having worked alongside, but never fully embraced, a succession of contemporary art movements, including Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptualism. While he has ingested many of their ideas, he remains deliberately wary of all artistic credos. In this sense, he is following in the footsteps of previous greats, like Joan Miro (1893-1983) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), who continued to reinvent themselves over fifty years or more.

Solo Exhibitions

Paintings by Gerhard Richter can be seen in many of the best art museums around the world. He has also enjoyed numerous one-man shows, including the following:

2012 - Panorama at the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
2012 - Panorama at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin.
2011 - Panorama at the Tate Modern, London.
2009 - Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
2008 - 4900 Colours: Version II - Serpentine Gallery, London.
2002 - Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
1998 - Retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
1998 - Retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
1991 - Retrospective at the Tate Gallery, London.
1986 - Retrospective at Kunsthalle Dusseldorf.


• For biographies of other contemporary German painters, see: Postmodernist Artists.
• For more details of contemporary art in Germany, see: Homepage.

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