Monday, 2 March 2009

Gerhard Richter

I.G. 1993
Oil on Canvas 82 x 92cm

Compton Verney - Warwickshire
9 December 2007

One of three paintings of the naked back of his third wife, Isa Genken, this is #790-3 in his Catalogue Raisonné and is part of the contemporary art collection owned by the Fundacion ‘la Caixa’ in Barcelona.

In this life size painting I.G. is shown from the waist up, she has her head down and stands with her arms at her side. Perhaps she has her head against the wall, as the shadow seems very shallow around the head. The pose looks very abject, heightened by the large green/black void to the left of the figure and the choice of horizontal format. It is the simplest and most melancholic of the 3 paintings in the series.

Richter has produced many such ‘photo-paintings’, made using a multi-step process of representations. He starts with a photograph and projects it onto his canvas, where he traces its form. Taking his colour palette from the photograph, he paints to replicate the look of the original picture. The surface of the painting is very smooth, probably done by wiping the finished painting with a soft wet brush. Interesting that he leaves the flaws in the canvas surface. There are no sharp edges within the image so this soft focus becomes a blurring of the boundary between photographic representation and the painterly art. I should say that the colour reproduction in the photograph of the painting shows none of the subtlety of the painting, particularly in the background.

I am always intrigued by paintings of a person’s back. The denial of the identity raises so many questions. Is the person turned away because they don’t want to be seen, or is the artist affording the subject some privacy? Curiously page 416 in Atlas has four photographs of I.G. in the nude, none of which became paintings yet the photographs for three images he did choose to paint are not included.

Consequently I suspect Richter is making a statement about portraiture painting. Richter has remarked in a 1966 that “A portrait must not express anything of the sitter’s ‘soul’, essence or character…it is far better to paint a portrait from a photograph, because no one can ever paint a specific person – only a picture that has nothing in common with the sitter. In a portrait by me, the likeness to the model is apparent, unintentional and also entirely useless.”[1]

[1] Hans Ulrich Obrist (ed), Gerhard Richter. The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993. London 1995 p57

©blackdog 2009


  1. A fine description and analysis again!- I'm always fascinated by Gerhard Richter's "photo-paintings (the museum in Münster possesses two of them; nowadays his heavenly glass window in the Cathedral of Cologne is admired!) - there is mostly such a slight veil/haze/fog of uncertainty, forlornness and distance on the paintings- Richter himself spoke of "loss"/"Verlust" which he might be obsessed to 'depicture'. The figures seems to evade our eyes, here in a double sense by the pose (back, head down) of I.G. (the second wife, I.G. is a provoking artist,too, her sculptures has been performed during the Sulpture Project Exhibition in Münster 2008)- I completely agree with your sentiment: a feeling of melancholy and refusal indeed!

  2. A quotation from GR to the comment:
    "In der Zusammenschau (GR in Düsseldorf, 2005) wird abermals deutlich, daß Richters Werk einen Nebel der Unsicherheit und des Zweifels über alles Wirkliche gelegt hat. Hartnäckig entzieht es sich dem Zugriff der Kunst und dem Blick, der es festzuhalten und zu ergründen sucht. Was bleibt, sind Nachbilder eines Verlusts, stets delikat gemalt. Nicht nur in den romantisch grundierten Landschaften hat das etwas zutiefst Melancholisches. Und hier und da scheint auch Furcht hineinzuspielen, die Bilder der Vergangenheit scharf zu stellen." (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 23.02.2005)

  3. "I am always intrigued by paintings of a person’s back." I'm, too, because it stimulates the imagination and preserves in a discreet way the privacy of a person. It is not the sole painting in the series of this blog- and yourself chose sometimes that sujet!
    The most beautiful back- pose- paintings are for me:
    -Caspar David Friedrich, Frau am Fenster/ woman in front of the window (=his wife) and
    Tischbein, Goethe in Rom (in front of the window, in his apartement)

  4. Many thanks Philine, I too know the work of Isa Genken and have seen it in London and Venice, but I cannot say that I understand it very well!

    Also very familiar with the CDF painting Frau am Fenster which was probably an early inspiration for me. I think it is a subject that is going to crop up again ;o)

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