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Seascape [Seestück], 1968

This is Richter’s first Seascape (Seestück), from 1968. It is a small painting, dominated by horizontality, as if the landscape were seen through the anamorphic lens of cinemascope. It shows a boundless horizon, only altered by a few whirls of foam, where the materiality of the painting looks thicker and the painter’s brushstrokes can be identified.

Seascape (grey) [Seestück (grau)], 1969

In Seascape (grey) [Seestück (grau), 1969)], the thick abstract brushstrokes make the specifics of the seascape disappear to transform the canvas into a monochromatic grey painting. Richter began his grey painting series in 1967―a series of canvases where, initially, he created abstract compositions out of concrete images. It seems as if the artist would have wanted to destroy an image―or maybe treasure it―, thus producing, in Richter’s words, the “most strictly illusory paintings of all.”

Seascape (with Olive Clouds) [Seestück (oliv bewölkt)], 1969

Some of Richter’s Seascapes are based on a collage of two different photographs, one for the sky and one for the sea, in an effort to make the perfect image. They thus introduce an anachronistic pristine world where the sky and the sea seem to come from different times, in a deceptive composition where perspective and light catch the viewer’s eye. The flat cotton clouds hide the painter’s brushstrokes, as if the painting were a mechanical reproduction.

Seascape (Green-grey, cloudy) [Seestück (grüngrau, bewölkt)], 1969

No clouds or skies look more alluring than those painted by Gerhard Richter or John Constable. Likewise, no perception of humans in the world can be more distant than the ones created by the works of Caspar David Friedrich and Gerhard Richter. But we shouldn’t insist on comparing them, as has been done in various publications. In his “cloud studies”, Constable wanted his brushstrokes to be made visible. Using brush and scraper, he was able to transfer the textures of the landscape he was looking at to the canvas. In his Seascapes, Richter resorted to a blurring technique, using a squeegee to apply highly diluted paint, to produce a smooth photo-like surface.

Seascape [Seestück], 1998

“I find the Romantic period extraordinarily interesting. My landscapes have connections with Romanticism: at times I feel a real desire for, an attraction to, this period, and some of my pictures are a homage to Caspar David Friedrich.”[1] If we place Richter’s seascapes and Friedrich’s paintings side by side, it easily meets the eye that, even when both highlight the sublimity of nature, the latter makes us realize the monumentality of his paintings by introducing human figures like the little monk, whereas the former turns us, viewers, into the point of reference for the scale of his seascapes.

[1] “Conversation with Paolo Vagheggi”, 1999, in Hans Ulrich Obrist and Dietmar Elger (ed.), Gerhard Richter - Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007

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