Tag Archives: postwar

A Natural History of Painting: Gerhard Richter

SOME YEARS AGO I WAS COMMISSIONED by a well-known London arts publisher to write a short book – what is known as a monograph – about the life and work of the German painter Gerhard Richter (born in 1932).

As an art student in the early nineteen-nineties, I was fascinated by Richter’s art — by his technical ability, the extraordinary range of his imagination, and the relentless twists and turns his work took — you never quite knew what was coming next.

After art school, I went to live in Germany, first in Munich, and then for some time in Berlin and Düsseldorf, travelling in the meantime all over the country. I became fascinated by the way art played a role in the reconstruction of Germany after 1945, and the long shadow of the War years, which I saw in the lives of friends as much as the work of contemporary German artists.

All this led to my first book Fault Lines. Art in Germany 1945-55, published in 2007; and, subsequently, the monograph on Richter that I wrote over three months in the autumn of 2009, A Natural History of Painting. The Art of Gerhard Richter.

Despite the fact that I had obtained permission from Richter to reproduce his paintings, for some reason the publisher was very slow in producing the book. After six years I reclaimed copyright to the text, thinking that something might be done with it — but nothing was. I printed a copy and stuck it into a sketchbook, so that it exists now only in one copy.

A Natural History of Painting. The Art of Gerhard Richter describes the spectacular course of Richter’s work against the background of late-twentieth century German and European history, taking the story up until around 2007, when Richter was seventy-five years old.

Since then I have been impressed for the most part by his drawings, some of which were shown at the Hayward Gallery in the exhibition ‘Gerhard Richter: Drawings, 1999-2021’. I wish now that I had written more about them in the book – they are among the most sensitive and beguiling of his works, despite their modest size and appearance. There may well be other interesting works made over the past fifteen years, but I have not seen them.

7.1.2021, drawing by Gerhard Richter
17 Juli 2020, drawing by Gerhard Richter
16 Juli 2020, drawing by Gerhard Richter

Here is a link to the final pages of the unpublished book A Natural History of Painting. The Art of Gerhard Richter. (The images are a little blurry on the draft layout, but somehow this seems appropriate for Richter).

I would write a different book nowadays, but the original manuscript still conveys, I think, the great love I have for Richter’s work.