Lot 12. Gerhard Richter, Italienische Landschaft (Italian Landscape), signed and dated "Richter VII.66" on the reverse, oil on canvas, 42 1/2 x 44 1/2 in. (108 x 113 cm.) Painted in 1966. Estimate $1,500,000 - 2,000,000. Image courtesy of Phillips.
Provenance: Barbara Gladstone Gallery / Rudolf Zwirner Gallery, New York
Günter Ulbricht Collection, Dusseldorf
Collection Bernd F. Lunkewitz, Berlin (acquired from the above in the 1980s)
Christie's, London, October 16, 2009, lot 13
Private Collection, Europe
Exhibited: New York, Barbara Gladstone Gallery / Rudolf Zwirner Gallery, Gerhard Richter. Paintings 1964-1974, December 13, 1
Literature: Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., Gegenverkehr, Aachen, 1969, no. 45, n.p. (illustrated, incorrectly dated 1967)
Gerhard Richter, exh. cat., XXXVI Biennale, Venice, 1972, no. 167/2, p. 68 (illustrated, incorrectly dated 1967)
Jürgen Harten, Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: Paintings 1962-1985, Cologne, 1986, no. 167/2, p. 154 (illustrated, p. 68, incorrectly dated 1967)
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter, Werkübersicht/Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1993, vol. III, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1993, no. 167-2, n.p. (illustrated, incorrectly dated 1967)
Dietmar Elger, ed., Gerhard Richter Landscapes, 2011, p. 19
Dietmar Elger, ed., Gerhard Richter. Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1968, vol. 1 (nos. 1 – 198), Ostfildern, 2011, no. 167-2, p. 337 (illustrated)
Note: An early photo-painting by Gerhard Richter, Italienische Landschaft (Italian Landscape), 1966, is among the first landscape paintings that the artist created in his career. Presenting a reinterpretation of the grand tradition of landscape painting in Romanticism, the work presents a sublime mountainous vista shrouded in heavy fog. Rendered in grisaille with the feathered brushwork synonymous with Richter’s blurred painterly idiom, Italienische Landschaft dissolves before our eyes into a flat field of subtle grey striations, pushing the figurative into the realm of abstraction. Painted in 1966, this majestic painting anticipates at once his large scale photo-paintings and abstract works, such as Vierwaldstätter See (Lake Lucerne), 1969, and his monochrome Graue Bilder (Grey Paintings) from the 1970s.
While relatively few landscape paintings exist in Richter’s oeuvre, no other motif has preoccupied the artist for such a sustained duration as that of landscape. Richter painted his first landscape paintings in 1963, just one year after he conceived his very first photo-paintings. Having moved to Düsseldorf from the German Democratic Republic in 1961, Richter, bombarded by the visual onslaught of the Western economic miracle, sought to critically examine the “truth claim” of photography by making paintings based on photographs that he sourced from newspapers, books, and family albums. However, Richter later came to reassess his earlier statements on the criteria for choosing certain photographs, explaining in 1986 how the criterion was, “content, definitely—though I may have denied this at one time” (Gerhard Richter, quoted in Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, “An Interview with Gerhard Richter”, 1986, October Files, no. 8, Cambridge, 2009, p. 13).
Italienische Landschaft belongs to the group of early photo-paintings of faraway places that art historian Dietmar Elger specifically highlighted as exemplary for the dichotomy they presented “between the objectifiable distance generated by black and white painting and the artist’s personal interest in the motifs” (Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter Landscapes, exh. cat., Sprengel Museum, Hannover, 1998, p. 19). As with Niagara Falls, 1964, or Sphinx von Gizeh, 1964, the present work portrays a landscape that Richter himself had never visited; he would tellingly only go on his first holiday abroad in 1968. Based on found photographs, these works collectively convey the middle-class desire for faraway holidays, and the implied economic independence.
With Italienische Landschaft, Richter subversively resuscitates the genre of landscape painting that was deemed outdated in the contemporary art context of the 1960s. While its sublime vista recalls those of Romantic painter Casper David Friedrich, Richter’s landscapes are diffused and void of human presence. As Richter explained, “landscapes…show my yearning…But though these pictures are motivated by the dream of classical Order and a pristine world – by nostalgia, in other words – the anachronism in them takes on a subversive and contemporary quality” (Gerhard Richter, “Notes 1981”, The Daily Practice of Painting, London, 1995, p. 98).
By subtly blurring the image, Richter deliberately aims to create a distance between the viewer and the landscape depicted. If the viewer is encouraged to lose him or herself in the painterly space of traditional landscape painting, in Italienische Landschaft one is, “left in a state of perpetual limbo bracketed by exigent pleasures and an understated but unshakable nihilism. Those who approach Richter’s landscapes with a yearning for the exotic or the pastoral are greeted by images that first intensify that desire and then deflect it” (Robert Storr, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002, p. 67). Masterfully recreating a photograph whilst allowing the process of its painterly making to remain visible, Richter heightens the tension between painting and photography, abstraction and figuration, truth and fiction – presenting to us an image that is conceptually subversive as it is utterly magnificent.