A Selection of Abstract Paintings 1960 – 2008

catalogue raisonné (CR) lists 1408 abstract paintings from this period. My selection reproduces only a few of the most important paintings. I confess to a preference for large, colorful pictures, and admit neglecting the large number of monochromes. For these the reader is referred to the catalogue raisonné on Richter's website.

With a few exceptions these paintings have no titles. They are here identified by Richter's CR-number. The majority are sets or cycles of several paintings, in which the historical order is denoted by a -number following the CR of the entire set.

His catalogue raisonné was created and is maintained by Richter himself, an unusual process. Normally such a catalogue is assembled by an art historian after the fact in an attempt to establish the historical order of the objects. More surprising is that Richter does not list all of his work in his CR, apparently includes unrelated paintings under one CR entry, and occasionally changes the historical order of his paintings. Whether he did this to lead the confounded art critics astray or to further “camouflage” his thought process is not clear. In any case, this reviewer feels entitled to occasionally doubt or alter the order of objects in a CR subset.

1981 - 1984

oil on canvas, various sizes

In the early 1980s Richter painted a number of large, single oil canvases each with a title of its own in the conventional manner. Here are a few of the most striking ones.

CR: 478-3, “Georg”, 200x200 cm, 1981
paintings 478-1 and -2 can be found on Richter's website

CR: 504, “Hedge”, 200x170 cm, 1982

CR: 518, “Gate”, 250x250 cm, 1983

CR: 528, “Juno”, 300x250 cm, 1983

CR: 553-1, “Besen” (Broom), 250x200 cm, 1984
a second painting can be found on Richter's website

CR: 565-1, “Ypsilon”, 200x280 cm, 1984
CR 565-2 can be found on Richter's website


CR: 780-1 to 4
oil on canvas, 260x200 cm, 1992

Beginning in the 1990s Richter began to experiment with, in general un-named sets of several paintings, each set in effect forming a single spatial unit. Painted in rapid succession within a few days, the individual panels of a set depict different aspects of his vision. They are not conventional “stages” in the painterly progress and do not lead to the last painting in the series. They are separate entities of the same spatial or mental image, as it were in time. In an interview (see video 1) he describes this process as not being consciously rational: “Otherwise they would be worthless.” The process is in fact completely spontaneous. As I will try to show this spontaneity is the source of their inherent beauty.

To illustrate Richter's visualisation process I reproduce several complete sets spatially as one painting with their varying space-time components next to each other. This is done in disregard of the painterly details of the individual panels. I will try to show that the details are by comparision less important.

It is difficult to see on these reproductions that their surfaces are a thick layer of successive overlays of paint hiding earlier stages. For some of the later abstracts (e.g., the “Cage” set) Richter allowed photographs to be taken of his overpainting process. The art critics pounced on those in hope of gaining further insight into Richter's thinking. But he consistently refused to explain his “thought” process, and these critical analyses remain essentially useless: The final surface of the painting conceals the previous ones except for selected structures, e.g., the rectangles in numbers -2 and -3, which shine through. Richter claims to have put the previous stages out of his mind.


CR: 869-1 to 9
oil on aluminum di-bond, various sizes: 46x40, 50x35 cm, 2000
for space reasons three other paintings have been omitted, see Richter's website

Between 2000 to 2004 Richter painted a number of abstracts on laminated aluminum di-bond. The reason is not clear, but I surmise that this material, besides delivering a texturally and colorwise different back-surface compared to canvas, allows a faster execution. The panels are also much smaller than his canvases of the same period.


CR: 871-1 to 10
oil on aluminum-dibond, 50x70 cm, 2001


CR: 889-1 to 14
oil on aluminum di-bond and on canvas, various sizes, 2004

In the following set one can distinquish the use of squeegies, sticks, spatulas which Richter used to apply or remove paint to give structure to the final surface. He also allows the structures of previous paint layers to show through which is especially effective on aluminum di-bond, 60x50 and 75x65 cm.

Richter included the following five paintings in CR 889 although they are on canvas and much larger than the above aluminum di-bonds.

CR: 889-10, oil on canvas, 200x200 cm, 2004

CR: 889-11, oil on canvas, 128x87 cm, 2004

CR:889-12, oil on canvas, 102x82 cm, 2004

CR: 889-13, oil on canvas, 200x200 cm, 2004

CR: 889-14, oil on canvas, 225x200 cm, 2004


CR: 892-1 to 12


oil on canvas, 197x132 cm, 2005
Privately owned individually, promised to the Museum of Modern Art, New York

CR 892, renamed “Forest”, is one of Richter's most elegant and beautiful sets. The small size of my reproductions cannot convey the impression the 12 large paintings make on the viewer, if seen together in one room. The
Getty Center in Los Angeles in 2006-2007 displayed the twelve “Forest” paintings juxtaposed with the romantic-spiritual paintings of Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) in an exhibition “From Caspar David Friedrich to Gerhard Richter: German Paintings from Dresden.” A unique experience - of the beauty Richter is able to convey.


CR: 895-10, oil on canvas, 152x152 cm, 2006

In 2006 Richter painted a series of nine bleak, small monochromes called “White” on aluminum di-bond followed under the same CR number by the large oil on canvas shown below. Its title, Haggadah, referers to the instructions for the traditional Jewish Passover Seder.

Technically this painting allows an unusual peek into the structure of the layers of underpantings to the right and left of the rectangular sheet of greens, reds and yellows. In fact this gives the painting a three-dimensional appearence, which one can perceive, if one stares at the painting for a while.

The connection of the nine white monochromes (which I omitted) to this canvas, its title, and its three-dimensionality remain unexplained. - Compared to the “Forest” set the painting exudes a serious melancholy if not a sombre mood with no relief in sight.



In homage to the composer John Cage (1912-1992)

CR: 897-1 to 6,
oil on canvas, 300x300cm, 2006, Tate Modern, London

Together with “Forest” this set constitutes the culmination of Richter's abstract oeuvre. Its title “Cage” - in the singular – is by Richter himself. The title has given rise to a number of nonesensical interpretations by the non-plussed art critics: Richter's cages, etc....” Fortunately Robert Storr and the Tate Modern, who owns the set, have given us a detailed account of the origin of the painting(s): It was conceived as a unit in homage to the composer John Cage. The conclusions from this revelation are manifold. In addition the “Cage” set raises the question whether Richter has a synesthetic gift, that is, whether he sees involuntary images when listening to music. I discuss this and other ramifications of the “Cage” paintings in my introduction.


CR: 903-1 to 6

oil on acrylic, various sizes, 2007
CR-903-1 I omitted

After 2007 Richter's
catalogue raisonné list only a few notable paintings – with the exception of a set of overpainted photographs (2008).

CR: 903-2, “Gestein”, 50x66 cm, 2007

CR: 903-4, “Dickicht”, 80x96 cm, 2007

CR: 903-5, “Dickicht”, 80x96 cm, 2007

CR: 903-6, 82x112 cm, 2007

CR: 903-7, 82x102 cm, 2007

Once again there is a question as to which of the 6 paintings belong to the same conceptual series and which have been included in this set by Richter for unknown reasons. I have omitted CR 903-1, a photo-realist painting of a young woman, which the reader can find on Richter's website . “Gestein” (rocks or minerals) appears also elsewhere in another CR. The two “Dickicht” (thicket) canvases may be the only coherent parts of CR 903.


Window for the Cathedral of Cologne

11,263 hand-blown, computer-arranged colored glass squares, 20 m high, 2007

Photo: by melekalikimaka, Wikipedia

The most important work of this period, the window in the Cologne Cathedral, is not found in Richter's catalogue raisonné. The window was commissioned by the Land Nordrhein-Westfalen and the City of Cologne. The window's unveiling caused a scandal. The archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner boycotted the inaugural celebration with the official statement that "it could as well have been placed in a mosque or a synagogue." - This is exactly one strong point in vavour of the window. - Read the comments by the photographer-journalist.

Richter's design is based on his eminently successful study “4096 Colors” (1974) shown below.

4096 Colors”

CR: 350-1, enamel on canvas, 254x254 cm, 1974

4096 Colors” sold for $ 3,703,500 at Christie's, New York, in 2004.

Except as otherwise noted, all images were downloaded from Richter's official website
All copyrights rest with Gerhard Richter