Gerhard Richter

Abstract Painting No. 439


Not on display

Gerhard Richter born 1932
Original title
Abstraktes Bild Nr. 439
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2000 × 3000 mm
Purchased 1979

Display caption

For many years Richter used photographs as a source for his figurative works. In the mid-1970s he began to incorporate photography into the process of making abstract paintings. This work was made by photographing one of his smaller compositions (Oil Sketch No. 432/11), which he then projected onto a large canvas, and then traced in charcoal. He completed the larger painting with conventional brushes and oil paint, working the surface into a smooth state of finish which suggests the glossy surface of a photograph.

Gallery label, April 2007

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed on back of canvas ‘439’ top left, and ‘Richter, 1978’ top right
Oil on canvas, 78 3/4 × 118 3/16 (200 × 300)
Purchased from the artist through the Whitechapel Art Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1979
Exh: Gerhard Richter: Abstract Paintings, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, October–November 1978 (works not numbered, listed as ‘No.439’ and repr. in colour); Whitechapel Art Gallery, March–April 1979 (works not numbered, listed as ‘No.439’ and repr. in colour)
Repr: Tate Gallery 1978–80, p.56 in colour

The works in the Eindhoven-Whitechapel Art Gallery exhibition consisted mainly of a series of very large abstract paintings based on small tachiste oil sketches, the sketch used for this one being T02380.

The artist writes (letter of 10 August 1980): 'I do not paint the oil sketches with the intention of using them for the big smooth pictures, but I subsequently use some of the sketches as patterns for the big pictures. The oil sketches look as though they had been painted quickly, but often take longer than the big paintings as they are altered from time to time to look as heterogeneous as possible. When I want to use an oil sketch for a larger picture, I make photographs or slides of it, which I then project onto the canvas in order to draw the outlines with charcoal. The painting in colours is then done with brushes in the classical manner (Primamalerei), more or less freely after the pattern (a quite traditional method as with the “Old Masters”). I never use air-brushes as they are too cumbersome and imprecise. The smoothness is achieved in the course of the painting process, starting with small brushes and ending with large, approximately 10 cm wide soft brushes which efface all traces of the handwriting and create the sfumato-effect and the illusion of photograph-like smoothness.

‘I should say that the fantasy-landscape, the science-fiction like effect appears of its own accord, without my consciously planning it’.

The paintings are executed with commercial oil paint made by the firm Schmincke of Düsseldorf, which he thins a little with lindseed oil with an addition of clove oil, and the numbers 439, 432/11 and so on refer to the serial numbering of his work catalogue.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981


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