Gerhard Richter

Date/place of birth

February 9, 1932, Dresden

Gerhard Richter - Pyramide
Gerhard Richter - Pyramide

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Gerhard Richter biography

Gerhard Richter is one of the most expensive artists of the present day. Collectors around the world bid record-breaking prices in the millions for works by the German painter, sculptor and photographer, whilst the stained-glass window in the Cologne Cathedral, installed in 2007 and consisting of 115,000 coloured glass rectangles marks the spectacular highlight of his glittering career.

Gerhard Richter – Study in Dresden with Heinz Lohmar

Gerhard Richter was born in Dresden on 9 February 1932. The son of a high school teacher and a bookseller, he grew up in a culturally inclined household; his mother in particular was very interested in literature and was a talented piano player. His father was taken prisoner during the Second World War and was thus temporarily estranged from his family. Living in the countryside, Gerhard Richter himself was kept relatively safe from the war and escaped combat because of his age. Despite this, the devastation of the war and the occupation of Germany by the allied troops had a lasting effect on Richter’s artistic development. He began the study of art in 1951 at the Dresden Kunstakademie in the midst of a shattered city, where his friendship with the student Marianne Eufinger, known as Ema, led to the artist’s first marriage. Ema’s father, the SS doctor Heinrich Eufinger, was involved in the murder of Gerhard Richter’s psychologically ill aunt Marianne Schönfelder - something that the artist, who painted both of them often, first learned about years later. Gerhard Richter saw his five years of study on the one hand as a privilege and a remarkable experience, but on the other, he found the teaching methods to be very conservative and increasingly obligated to the politically prescribed Socialist Realism, and so Richter deliberately selected the course of the painter and graphic artist Heinz Lohmar who was considered cosmopolitan in orientation and less dogmatic. 

First international successes with wall painting

Every month, Gerhard Richter received the photo magazine Magnum from an aunt in West Germany, which he read with enthusiasm, and the goodwill of a professor enabled him to take several study trips, among them to West Germany, which provided valuable stimuli. The photographic documentation of the atrocities in the National Socialist concentration camps left a deep impression on the young artist and Richter became politically involved in politics from early on, and, together with his fellow students, was involved in protest movements against the GDR government. For his thesis, Richter created a large-format wall painting for the German Hygienemuseum - the picture was considerably different to Richter’s later style and met the taste of the customer. However, the artist resisted the attempt to earn a good living as a state painter and instead took a different direction after graduating. Despite this, he first followed a support programme offered by his academy which provided him with a studio and various commissions for further wall pictures for three years. Commissions included fairy tale motifs for a nursery and symbolically loaded propaganda art for official SED (Socialist Unity Party) buildings. 

Flight to the West, professorship in Düsseldorf

Gerhard Richter increasingly struggled to come to terms with the constraints imposed by the GDR, to which art in particular was also subjected. A few months before the erection of the Berlin Wall, he fled with his wife to the West, the reasons for which he attempted to explain to his teacher Lohmar in a farewell letter. Richter continued his studies at Düsseldorf Kunstakademie alongside later famous students such as Gotthard Graubner, Kuno Gonschior, Konrad Lueg, Blinky Palermo, Sigmar Polke and Franz Erhard Walther, where he was taught by Karl Otto Götz and Ferdinand Macketanz. The emerging Fluxus movement greatly impressed Richter; when Joseph Beuys lost his teaching license on the instigation of Johannes Rau, Gerhard Richter, already a professor at the academy by this time, was one of the supporters of the vilified Rau, along with other big names such as Heinrich Böll, Peter Handke, Henry Moore, Günther Uecker, and Martin Walser. In 1982, Richter separated from Ema and married his master student Isa Genzken. The second marriage lasted eleven years, and in 1995 Richter married his last student Sabine Moritz. 

International rise and controversial themes

Gerhard Richter was interested in the relationship between painting and photography; photorealistic paintings with light painterly blurring feature in his oeuvre as much as abstract composition. He often worked with other artists; for example, with his university friends Manfred Kuttner, Konrad Lueg and Sigmar Polke, he created Kapitalistischen Realismus, which ironically turned against Socialist Realism, part of the state doctrine in the GDR. Alongside a rapid and unbroken international rise, there were often controversies: his RAF cycle 18. Oktober 1977 featuring fifteen pictures of the suicide of the terrorists Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin and Holger Meins caused a great stir. Further controversy was sparked by his cycle concerning the Birkenau concentration camp for which he distorted photographs of Holocaust victims and the burning of corpses. 

A broadly diverse oeuvre between photography and painting

The so-called overpaintings are characteristic for Gerhard Richter’s work, for which he used photographs as a template. Time and again, the artist deliberately broke with his style in order to explore new ground – critics referred to this as a “break in style as a stylistic principle”. Broadly speaking, however, this factor gives the artist’s work an extraordinary depth. The church windows Richter designed for Cologne Cathedral and those for the St. Mauritius Benedictine monastery in Tholey – according to the artist his last large, numbered artwork – achieved particular fame. Gerhard Richter has received awards and honours for his art in immeasurable numbers, including the Goslarer Kaiserring in 1988, the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale and the Praemium Imperiale in 1997, the American Wexner Prize in 1998, and the European Culture Prize Taurus in 2018.

Gerhard Richter lives in Cologne. In September 2020 he declared his work as a painter was finished and has retired at the age of 88. 

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Gerhard Richter Prices

Gerhard RichterPyramide€559.300
Gerhard RichterGRÜN-BLAU-ROT€421.600
Gerhard RichterAbstraktes Bild (abstract painting)€390.400
Gerhard RichterVorhang (Ölskizze)€359.600
Gerhard RichterTeyde-Landschaft, Skizze€342.200
Gerhard RichterAbstraktes Bild (abstract painting)€300.000

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