Catalogue entry

P77207 Elizabeth I 1966

Offset lithograph 700 × 595 (27 1/2 × 23 3/4) on wove paper, same size; printer not known; published by Edition h, Hanover in an edition of 50
Inscribed ‘Richter, X 66’ b.r., ‘Elizabeth’ on back b.r. and ‘3/50(I)’ on back b.r.
Purchased from Anthony d'Offay Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1988
Lit: René Block, Grafik des Kapitalistischen Realismus, Berlin 1968, p.144, no.R4a, repr.; John T. Paoletti, ‘Gerhard Richter: Ambiguity as an Agent of Awareness’, Print Collector's Newsletter, vol.19, no.1, March–April 1988, p.2

P77207 is an image of the current British monarch, Elizabeth II. The picture was taken from a newspaper or magazine and rephotographed by the artist. Richter made another print ‘Elizabeth II’, using the same photograph. Both are grey, resembling the black and white photograph from which they derive. At the time he made the prints, Richter was working in Düsseldorf, Germany.

In conversation with the compiler in Cologne on 18 May 1990, Richter confirmed that the ‘I’ in the title of P77207 indicates that this print was the first of the two versions of the same subject, which were made at the same time. The two prints differ in the blurring of the image, which was produced by altering the registration of the photographic image in the printing process. In ‘Elizabeth II’, the image is twisted slightly, while in P77207 the blurring has been caused by shifting the image along the vertical plane. (This can be seen most easily in the repeated contour of the Queen's shoulder near the bottom left of the image.) About these prints, John T. Paoletti (1988, p.2) has written:

In ‘Elizabeth I’ and ‘Elizabeth II’, both images of the current British monarch, Richter turned to the offset technique he was to use more often than any other medium for his prints, thus not only replicating the subject matter of his purloined images but their medium as well. The images of Queen Elizabeth are also instructive because Richter clarifies the printing process in the second print, showing the distinct grid of the raster screen while at the same time degrading the actual image virtually to the point of unrecognizability. Richter seems to be inquiring if there is an inverse ratio between our perceptions of medium and of image, a query obviously not limited to these two prints.

In conversation with the compiler, the artist could not recall where he found the photograph of Queen Elizabeth II on which P77207 is based. He assumed it was an image taken from a magazine or newspaper. Richter explained that he had chosen the image of the British Queen as a personal gesture (and one he admitted had gone unnoticed) against the many extreme, mainly leftwing, voices being raised in Germany at the time. He emphasised that in choosing an image of the British monarch he was not trying to make a political statement in support of the power of the establishment. It was just that he felt that the Queen was representative of the type of public figure who was being criticised on ideological grounds, unfairly he believed, by some sections of the community.

Richter also painted an oil portrait of the same subject, ‘Queen Elizabeth’, in 1967 (repr. ‘Werkübersicht/Catalogue raisonné 1962–1993’, in Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Paris 1993, III, [p.21], no.168). It also depicts the head of the Queen, but was based on a different photograph to the one used for the ‘Elizabeth’ lithographs.

In the period 1965–74, during which Richter made most of his prints, the same or similar subjects often occurred in his paintings and prints. Photography has played an important part in Richter's career. After 1962 he frequently painted images from photographs found in albums and newspaper or magazine publications. In his prints Richter developed some of the complex issues first explored in his mostly monochromatic ‘photopaintings’. He stopped working in print media in 1974, at about the same time as he gave up painting from found photographs, and began to use photographs he took himself. On the links between Richter's photographs and printmaking, Paoletti (ibid.) writes:

Richter's early exploration of printmaking seems to be connected with his use of photographs from mass communication. By replicating such images in painting, he engaged in what he has called a ‘flight’ away from art, to anonymous imagery with ‘no style, no composition, no judgement’. In his prints Richter additionally confronts the possibility of using one multiple to make another. Insofar as some of the prints are in large editions and nearly all of them involve a photographic process (offset, silkscreen, collotype), there are real questions raised about the differences between Richter's prints and the original newspaper or magazine illustration. Moreover, the look of the prints is the same as massmedia illustration, if somewhat less legible. Just as Richter balances his paintings between realism and abstraction, he works at the boundary between art and non-art in his prints - a way of saying, perhaps, that he does not admit the distinction or that he thinks the issue is false.

The importance of photographs in Richter's work is such that he has exhibited them as an encyclopaedic and ever-growing work on their own, entitled ‘Atlas’, in 1976 and 1989. Richter's ‘Atlas’ does not include every source photograph he has collected or taken (on neither occasion was the photograph for P77207 included; Richter told the compiler that he had not kept the photograph on which P77207 is based). However, the many hundreds of photographs collected by the artist and displayed in a series of standard frames in the ‘Atlas’ sequence underline the continuing importance of photography in Richter's approach to selecting images. In an entry in his journal dated 12 October 1986 Richter wrote about how he chose his motifs from the copious quantities of images (in this instance, landscapes) with which he is confronted every day: ‘I see innumerable landscapes, photograph scarcely one in a hundred thousand, paint scarcely one of a hundred photographs - thus I look for something quite specific; I can conclude from that, that I know what I want’ (‘Gerhard Richter: Notes 1966–1990’, in Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1991, p.119).

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996