The Reader

22680w_richterthereaderx362271
Gerhard Richter-Lesende (The Reader) 1994 

A truly astounding and disorienting masterpiece by the German virtuoso of latter 20th and early 21th century art, Gerhard Richter. What appears to be at first glance to be an artistic photograph, albeit a sublime one, of Richter’s beautiful third wife Sabine Moritz reading a newspaper, turns to wonderment and awe when you realise that this is actually an oil painting on canvas. There is an absolute perfection of the reproduction of the original image in a different media, a dizzying illusionism that questions our perception of art and consequently reality itself . The gorgeousness of the play of light across the sweep of the neck and shoulders, combined with the serenity of expression and the unquestioned technical mastery is worthy of Vermeer, an acknowledged inspiration.

Richter, who is quoted as saying that he is a Surrealist, has painted in a bewildering array of styles during his career that has spanned over 60 years. As well as his hyper-realist and photo-realistic paintings he has painted abstracts, monochromes and landscapes. Over the last five years his work have fetched the highest prices of any living artist. The Museum Ludwig in Cologne, a city Richter has resided in since 1983 holds a large collection of his work and recently held an exhibition of a series of 26 abstracts painted in 2015.

Betty

36511
Gerhard Richter-Betty 1988
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.

Sisters

27851
Gerhard Richter-Schwestern 1967
The German artist Gerhard Richter is famous for the astounding hyper-realism of his photo-pictures (see The Reader), smudged interpretations of various masterpieces by the Old Masters (see Bathers) and a truly breath-taking versatility, however his greatest contribution to painting is probably  his introduction of the blur in pictorial representation. After centuries of painters seeking to reproduce nature in ever starker clarity, Richter shifts the focus, blurs the outlines and forces us to question our perceptions. Richter achieves the effect by a typically torturous route; using photographs (the invention of photography, lest we forget, was the single greatest contributing factor in the creation of all the various schools of modernism) which he then paints an exact reproduction of and then proceeds to accentuate any blurring present in the original.

1967’s Schwestern (Sisters) is a fine example of the technique (it also recently sold at Sotheby’s London for over four million dollars). The whole painting has a decided air of ambiguity, the salacious poses of the scantily clad women and their over-eager smiles is suggestive and strikingly at odds with the title. The heavy blurring only adds to the air of uncertainty as to what we are exactly witnessing.

Bathers

83501
Gerhard Richter-Badende (Bathers) 1967
As I noted in my previous post on the extraordinary German artist Gerhard Richter (see The Reader) his constant re-invention, technical mastery and breath of subject matter has created a body of work without parallel in contemporary art.

He has also shown an constant engagement with and re-visioning of the work of the Old Masters, including Vermeer, Titian and Ingres. Badende, featured above, takes as its starting point Ingres’s The Turkish Bath, one of the most sensual and erotic paintings ever, while Kleine Badende below references the same artist’s The Small Bather. Grey is to Richter what blue was to Yves Klein (Dreams of Desire 48 (Blue), however the smudged obscurity of Badende actually accentuates the erotic possibilities inherent in the scene. Richter’s third wife Sabine Moritz is the model for Kleine Badende, painted in the blurry photo-realistic style that he is justifiably famous for.

gerhardrichterkleinebadende%255bsmallbather%255d%252c19961
Gerhard Richter-Kleine Badende (Small Bather) 1996