Probably the most popular painting by the German maestro Gerhard Richter (see my previous posts The Reader, Bathers and Sisters) is the enchanting Betty. It is the first painting that I saw of Richter’s and like many people I mistook it for a beautiful photograph. I was confused and then awed to learn that Betty was in fact an oil painting on canvas.
Betty is a portrait of the artist’s daughter and there is an added dimension of pathos in the fact that the original photograph had been taken ten years previously. In complete contravention of every rule of portraiture, the subject is turned away from the viewer, adding an air of mystery to Betty in true Surrealist fashion. If the role of portraiture is to reveal the personality of the subject, what can we fathom when the model turns away from the viewer’s gaze? What can anyone really know about another person, even our own flesh and blood? While other people remain an enigma, the role of art is to capture their transient, unique and ineffable beauty.