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Artists Gerhard Richter
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Gerhard Richter

German Painter

Movements and Styles: Pop Art, Postmodernism

Born: February 9, 1932 - Dresden, Germany

Gerhard Richter Timeline


"Photography altered ways of seeing and thinking. Photographs were regarded as true, paintings as artificial. The painted picture was no longer credible; its representation froze into immobility, because it was not authentic but invented."
Gerhard Richter
"I want to leave everything as it is. I therefore neither plan nor invent; I add nothing and omit nothing. At the same time, I know that I inevitably shall plan, invent, alter, make and manipulate. But I don't know that."
Gerhard Richter
"Gray is the color.. the most important of all.. absent of opinion, nothing, neither/nor."
Gerhard Richter
"I'm still very sure that painting is one of the most basic human capacities, like dancing and singing, that make sense, that stay with us, as something human.
Gerhard Richter
"Every museum is full of nice things. That's the opposite of before. It was important things or serious things. Now we have interesting things."
Gerhard Richter
"I believe in painting and I believe in eating too. What can we do? We have to eat, we have to pain, we have to live. Of course, there are different ways to survive. But it's my best option."
Gerhard Richter
"I don't dare to think my paintings are great. I can't understand the arrogance of someone saying, 'I have created a big, important work.'"
Gerhard Richter

"What I'm attempting in each picture is nothing other than this...to bring together in a living and viable way, the most different and the most contradictory elements in the greatest possible freedom."

Gerhard Richter Signature


Gerhard Richter is a German painter who originally trained in a realist style and later developed an appreciation for the more progressive work of his American and European contemporaries. Richter increasingly employed his own painting as a means for exploring how images that appear to capture "truth" often prove, on extended viewing, far less objective, or unsure in meaning, than originally assumed. The other common themes in his work are the elements of chance, and the play between realism and abstraction. Working alongside but never fully embracing a quick succession of late-20th-century art movements, such as Abstract Expressionism, American/British Pop art, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, Richter has absorbed many of their ideas while remaining skeptical of all grand artistic and philosophical credos.

Key Ideas

Richter has maintained a lifelong fascination for the power of images and painting's long, uneasy relationship with photography: while either medium may claim to reflect or express reality truthfully, either ultimately suggests only a partial, or incomplete view of a subject.
Richter borrows much of his painted imagery from newspapers, or even his own family albums. Often he begins by mechanically projecting such an image onto the canvas, a technique for thinking about how images often seem to have a life of their own, like mysterious ghosts haunting our psyche. This act of visual compression, in which photography, projection, and painting merge to make a finished art work, suggests that all vision is a kind of conversion of the "real" into the "imaginary."
Richter would often blur his subjects and embrace chance effects in his own painting process in order to show the impossibility of any artist conveying the full truth of a subject in its original condition. Such means for suggesting that something essential to the model has been "lost in translation" often leads a viewer's attention to the oil pigment's dense, material nature, thereby demonstrating both its expressive strengths and shortcomings.
In Richter's completely abstract canvases, personal emotion and all traces of the painter's autobiography seem missing. The painting's many layers, strokes, and scrapes of color may thus appear as "beautiful" as anything found in nature that came into existence partly according to a predetermined structure (such as DNA), as well as by way of unpredictable occasions of pure chance and the action of outside forces.

Most Important Art

Gerhard Richter Famous Art

Clouds (1982)

Clouds is an example of how Richter frequently alternates between realist and abstract styles in various series of work, as well as on a single canvas. In this instance, even the title bears an ambiguous relation to the entire composition. In the lower region of the canvas, for instance, Richter suggests that the viewer is having a perceptual experience of looking through a window; nevertheless, the bold tracks, scrapes, smudges, and layer of paint above playfully cancel that optical illusion. Thus Richter is frequently fascinated by how a viewer's desire to extract "meaning" from a given work of art often proves utterly futile. He suggests that we might instead relish a simple experience of visual pleasure, or the discovery of "beauty" by way of studying abstract forms for their own sake.
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Gerhard Richter Artworks in Focus:



Gerhard Richter was born in 1932 in Dresden, Germany, during the rise of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or the Nazi Third Reich. Notably, some of Richter's relatives were directly involved in the Nazi movement, namely his father, a schoolteacher, and an uncle. Richter's mother, the daughter of a concert pianist, encouraged her son's early talent for draftsmanship. In 1948, at the age of 16, Richter quit his formal education and took up an apprenticeship as a set painter for the theater. The wake of war proved traumatic for Richter: two of his uncles had been killed in action, and his father had lost his employment. This family turmoil, coupled with the artist's early artistic training under postwar communist-driven ideology, eventually led Richter to seek his creative inspiration in nature over any political or religious affairs or philosophies.

Early Training

Beginning in 1951, Richter studied at the Kunstakademie, Dresden, where he painted murals and political banners commissioned by state-owned businesses. During this time, the East German communist regime imposed a Social Realist style on all practicing artists; this policy effectively turned art to the service of political propaganda. In keeping with this development, the government banned exhibitions of American Pop art and Fluxus. These circumstances severely limited Richter's fledgling artistic style, as he was instructed to paint only landscapes in a manner heavily informed by pastoral romanticism.

Gerhard Richter Biography

Richter married Marianne Eufinger in 1957, and the couple celebrated the birth of a daughter, Betty, in 1966. Two years later, during a visit to West Germany in 1959, Richter discovered the work of contemporary artists Jackson Pollock and Lucio Fontana. Pollock's uninhibited splashes of color across canvas had a profound impact on Richter, provoking him to reflect on his own artistic ideology. Indeed, Richter began to question how a realist style did not seem to capture the energy, sense of truth, and spirit of artistic liberation that he observed in the abstract work of his American and European contemporaries. Supposedly "realistic", his work seemed to fail to reflect the underlying, tumultuous nature of reality itself.

In 1961, just prior to the government's official completion of the Berlin Wall, Richter moved to Dusseldorf. Once again enrolling at the local Kunstakademie, Richter intended to work in a more uninhibited, avant-garde manner; in the process of rethinking his approach to art making, he purposely destroyed many of his early paintings from the 1950s and the 1960s.

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Gerhard Richter Biography Continues

Mature Period

While continuing to paint in a realist manner, around 1961, Richter began using photographs, projecting and tracing images directly onto the canvas. Richter believed that he was, as an artist, "not painting a particular person, but a picture that has nothing in common with the model." Thus while he painted individuals from photographs, Richter's replica images were often blurred and bore nothing distinctively identifiable about the subject, an effect that forced the viewer to consider the fundamental components of the painting itself, such as composition, color scheme, and so forth, rather than leaving the viewer to identify with, or be distracted by, a picture's implied content or its emotional element of "humanity."

Eventually finding himself frustrated over whether to pursue abstraction or figuration, Richter decided to concentrate on the chance details that emerged from the painting process. Using the same method as employed in his representational paintings, Richter began blurring, scraping, and concealing various painted layers in his new canvases. In 1966, he created a series of grey paintings that featured compositional structure and paint application rather than realistic subject matter. Richter applied the paint in thick brushstrokes, or with rollers and an aggressive sweep of a squeegee (ironically, a tool commonly used for window cleaning and clarifying one's scope of vision). In this particular body of work, Richter minimized the visual impact of realist imagery in favor of a spontaneous, gestural illusion of space.

In 1971, Richter became a professor at the Kunstakademie, Dusseldorf. This marks the beginning of his "color chart" paintings, in which he systematically applied square hues of solid color to large canvases. During this time, Richter received wide criticism for his express refusal to be identified with a specific artistic movement, as well as for his work's apparent unwillingness to acknowledge various social and political issues pertaining to the WWII Nazi regime.

Late Period

Richter embraced the title, Abstract Painting, in 1976, as a generic one for all his subsequent canvases, a move that effectively forced viewers to interpret a given work without explanation provided by the artist. One year later, Richter returned to figurative work in his Baader-Meinhof series, which chronicled the controversial death of a group of young German terrorists in a Stammheim prison. Photographs served as references as Richter painted the dead and captured the horrific vanity of the terrorists' actions. The blurred imagery of Richter's paintings might be said to parallel the unsolved mystery surrounding the inmates' sudden demise.

Gerhard Richter Photo

In 1983, Richter moved to Cologne with his second wife, contemporary sculptor Isa Genzken. The couple later divorced, and in 1995 Richter married Sabine Moritz, who gave birth to a son and a daughter. Richter continues to live in Cologne, while he also maintains his professorship at the Kunstakamedie, Dusseldorf.

During the 1980s and '90s, Richter achieved international celebrity for his series of entirely abstract paintings that, on first glance, would seem to carry on a tradition of Abstract Expressionism; nevertheless, on close examination of their dense surfaces, these color-resplendent works suggest that they have been calculated to refer only to themselves or their processes of production (i.e. in lieu of expressing any personal psychology of the artist himself). Sharing a typically postmodern attitude of skepticism toward all grand ambitions, Richter seems in this body of work to revel in his own ability to pack pigments in dense layers across the canvas, and then disturb the entire, quasi-archeological field by raking it laterally, as though the artist was mechanically plowing "intersections" where his own control of his materials gives way, in this place and that, to purely chanced textures and random coagulations of color. These "abstract pictures," as Richter titles them, ultimately seem to constitute isolated moments of pure visual pleasure.


Richter came of age as a painter at what was, for an artist, a very challenging moment in history, indeed, when both modern art and global politics had arrived at historic "milestones" in their respective development. Richter found a viable means for reconciling his long grounding in Social Realist painting with more conceptually challenging, avant-garde developments afoot in Europe and the United States. At a time when the "death of painting" was increasingly proclaimed by a new generation more interested in art's conceptual potential than with mastering long traditions of material craftsmanship, Richter demonstrated that painting could still powerfully question all images for their truth potential, no matter whether they might originate in the news media, the cinema, the internet, the ubiquitous realm of commercial advertising, or even the family photo album. Richter has also reinvigorated the idea that desiring "beauty" in one's work is a perfectly acceptable ambition, particularly at a time when many of his generation presumed that any desire for aesthetic pleasure was something to be embarrassed about, or indeed applicable only to a distant, presumably less sophisticated people in history.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Gerhard Richter
Interactive chart with Gerhard Richter's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart


Max BeckmannMax Beckmann
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Lucio FontanaLucio Fontana
Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg
Andy WarholAndy Warhol


Joseph BeuysJoseph Beuys
Georg BaselitzGeorg Baselitz
Sigmar PolkeSigmar Polke
Konrad Fischer-LuegKonrad Fischer-Lueg


Pop ArtPop Art
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter
Years Worked: 1951 - Present


Christopher WoolChristopher Wool
Ellsworth KellyEllsworth Kelly


Sigmar PolkeSigmar Polke
Blinky PalermoBlinky Palermo
Robert StorrRobert Storr


Conceptual ArtConceptual Art

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Content compiled and written by Larissa Borteh

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Useful Resources on Gerhard Richter







The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting

By Dietmar Elger

written by artist

Gerhard Richter: Writings 1961 - 2007

By Gerhard Richter, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Dietmar Elger

The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings 1962-1993

By Gerhard Richter, Hans Ulrich Obrist

More Interesting Books about Gerhard Richter
Building an Art of Virtuoso Ambiguity

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
September 9, 2010

Richter's Earthquake Recomended resource

By Jerry Saltz
New York Magazine
November 22, 2009

Call To Order - Robert Storr Discusses Gerhard Richter Exhibition

By Tom Holert
January 2002


Gerhard Richter

By Sarah Douglas
January 26, 2010

in pop culture

Gerhard Richter album cover art

By Sonic Youth bank for their album: Daydream Nation (1988)

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