Abstract Painting (726) 1990 is a large-scale diptych by the German artist Gerhard Richter, comprising two joined sections of canvas and characterised by shimmering horizontal forms. As the title implies, there are no clear representational elements depicted in the painting, but within its thick layers of colour – especially prominent are white, red and a rusty orange – there is the suggestion of an original image which has become blurred. The work is also marked by several scratches, mostly vertical, that Richter has made through the paint.
Richter has explained that he alters his abstract paintings ‘much more often than the representational ones. They often turn out completely different to what I’d planned’ (Nicolas Serota and Gerhard Richter, ‘I Have Nothing to Say and I’m Saying It’, in Godfrey and Serota 2011, p.17). A photograph of an early version of Abstract Painting (726), taken in Richter’s Cologne studio (and reproduced in Rainbird and Severne 1991, p.100), reveals its evolution from a cleaner and brighter composition into its final more sombre and indistinct imagery. The work initially consisted of four approximately even vertical bands – three dominated by differing shades of red, and one painted in a sharp green, although there were also blue and yellow streaks present. Once this composition had dried, Richter added thick daubs of additional paint to the surface, which he pressed, squeezed and scraped across the pictorial plane in thick horizontal swipes using a long wooden ruler edged with rubber. By dragging the paint across the surface, Richter was able to produce a grey veil over the predominantly red undercoat, which can still be glimpsed in places through the thin smears.
The scraping and streaking of paint in Abstract Painting (726) produces an effect reminiscent of a photographic blur. In this respect, the work confirms Richter’s continued engagement with photographic imagery. After migrating in 1961 from Dresden in East Germany to Düsseldorf in West Germany (where he studied at the city’s art academy), Richter began to make paintings derived from photographs, a practice he continued to develop alongside his more overtly abstract works.
The blurring in this painting has provoked additional interpretations. Curator and critic Richard Cork has claimed Abstract Painting (726) has ‘a strong sensation of urban life’, and sees the blurred forms as reflections produced by ‘figures, buildings and traffic’ on a ‘rain-soaked street’ (Richard Cork, ‘Through a Glass, Darkly: Reflections on Gerhard Richter’, in Anthony d’Offay Gallery 1991, pp.11–13). Cork’s emphasis on a city scene would seem to place this painting in contrast to a series of four other works, titled Forest, which Richter also completed in 1990, where a more rural theme is implied (reproduced in Rainbird and Severne, pp.101–4). In addition, Cork suggests that the pink pools in the upper reaches of Abstract Painting (726) suggest ‘the partially diluted blood left behind by an accident or even, perhaps, a terrorist outrage’ (Cork 1991, p.13). This is an interpretation, which – along with the violent slashes in the canvas – places the painting into dialogue with the controversial portraits of the Baader-Meinhof gang (a West German militant group prominent in the 1970s) which Richter first exhibited in February 1989.
The title of this work offers little indication of potential meanings. The number it includes refers to the painting’s position within Richter’s ‘worklist’ – a chronological order of his artistic production which he has maintained since 1963.
Abstract Painting (726) was first displayed in the exhibition Gerhard Richter: Mirrors at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, in April 1991, where it was the largest painting in the show. The work later appeared in Richter’s first retrospective in the United Kingdom, which began at the Tate Gallery in October 1991. It subsequently became part of the major Gerhard Richter: Panorama exhibition, which began at Tate Modern in 2011 and toured to the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Gerhard Richter: Mirrors, exhibition catalogue, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1991.
Sean Rainbird and Judith Severne (eds.), Gerhard Richter, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1991, reproduced p.100.
Mark Godfrey and Nicholas Serota (eds.), Gerhard Richter: Panorama, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2011, reproduced p.195.
Supported by Christie’s.