The Early Richter


A Photo Album of 784 Pages, 1962 - 2006

At the very beginning of Richter's career as a painter stand 12 pages of photos, personal pictures, snippets from newspapers and books, and photographic curiosities, which he named “Atlas”. In themselves they are only of interest because they document Richter's varied preoccupations at the time: the landing on the moon, an English landlady, political events and personalities and trivial everyday scenes. Through the years Richter has added to this Atlas until has grown to nearly 800 sheets.

Early Atlas Sheets, 1962

Atlas Sheet 5

Atlas Sheet 7

Atlas Sheet 10

Paintings from Photographs

Attempts at destroying photographic reality

He returned to the “Atlas” again and again to create paintings from the photos or even simpler overpaint the photographs. – It is in this way that the “Atlas” assumes a decisive role in his work. In the following I reproduce a few of his earliest paintings from the respective sheets above. With a few exceptions they are gray monotones. It is seen that he tends to wash out the photographic detail in the oil paintings, as if to soften and unsharpen the “reality” - his memory? - of the photographed events.

Woman in Deckchair
oil on canvas, 60x95 cm, 1964

oil on canvas, 135x110 cm, 1962

oil on canvas, 62x85cm, 1963

Mailand Cathedral
oil on canvas, 130x130 cm, 1964

Two Couples
oil on canvas, 115x160 cm, 1966

Girl in an Armchair
oil on canvas, 90x110cm, 1966

CR: 134, Ema descending the stairs
oil on canvas, 200x130 cm, 1966

The culmination of Richter's “realist” stage is CR: 134, “Ema, Nude descending a staircase.” This painting is a reference to Marcel Duchamp whom Richter considers the last conventional painter. See video 1

Between 1966 and 1970 Richter continued to experiment with black-and-white, later with color photographs: landscapes, people, architectural elements and city views - and with commercial Farbtafeln (color cards). In 1970-76 he painted a number of gray monochromes with no detail and a series of portraits of public personalities – during this time, slowly the first colorful abstract oils are emerging (e.g., “Red-Yellow-Blue”).

Because a discussion of these paintings would overburden this presentation and add little to showing the beauty of Richter's paintings, the reader is referred to Richter's website, which covers this period in detail. The transition to a pure painterly abstraction occurs between 1978 and 1997 in his Watercolors, which form the next section.

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