Eisberg, an oil on canvas painting by Gerhard Richter goes on sale at Sotheby’s London Evening sale of Contemporary Art. It is estimated at £8 -12 million. Image: Sotheby’s
LONDON- Next month, Gerhard Richter’s Eisberg will go on auction in London. The sale is part of Sotheby’s London Evening sale of Contemporary Art. Estimated at £8 -12 million, Eisberg is considered one of the finest landscape paintings by the artist. The painting has remained in the same Private European collection since 1983, the year after it was painted.
Gerhard Richter painted the beautiful Eisberg after divocing his first wife Ema in 1981. The couple had been married for 25 years. Cracks began to appear in the marriage as early as 1972. It, however, collapsed in the early 1980s, when Gerhard Richter was living with Isa Genzken, a successful young artist.
Richter created Eisberg as an act of self-evaluation of his unfulfilled dreams. According to his biographer Dietmar Elger, the artist created the painting “to work through his unfulfilled hope for familial happiness and to take final stock of a difficult period in his life.”
Eisberg is a beautiful desolately seascape painting. Based on the composition and the period it was painted, the painting is widely considered a metaphor for Richter’s state of mind. The serene frozen seascape, with its perfectly balanced spectrum of icy and arctic hues, also gives credence to the narrative that the painting is a meditative allusion to self-portraiture.
Eisberg is based on a photograph Richter took in 1972 during an Arctic expedition to Greenland. 1972 was a difficult time in his marriage. To get away from the turbulence, Richter decided to go on the expedition to Greenland. The journey provided a psychological breather from his life in Dusseldorf.
“The project was an excuse for getting away… Trouble in my marriage was reaching a climax. Going into the ice could be interpreted as longing for a place where one feels safe just so long as there is no life, only ice,” notes Gerhard Richter.
Ten years after the expedition, the photographs he took became the catalyst for some of the most powerful images of his career. The dramatic composition of Eisberg is based on one the photographs taken during the expedition.
Eisberg is an important example of Richter’s paintings. For most of his career, Richter was deeply fascinated by landscape. For more than three decades, landscape as a genre was central to Richter’s artistic career. “When asked why he chose to depict landscapes, Gerhard Richter pronounced: I felt like painting something beautiful.” Ironically, Gerhard Richter produced relatively low landscape paintings, rendering them hugely rare, and deeply sought-after within his oeuvre.
Gerhard Richter’s Eisberg draws from the canon of art history, and long tradition of landscape painting. It pays homage to the work of another great German artist, Caspar David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice. Friedrich’s masterpiece depicts William Edward Parry’s heroic ship HMS Griper trapped in the ice.
HMS Griper built in 1813 by Mark Williams and John Davidson, was one of the two ships that took part in William Edward Parry’s 1819-1824 expeditions to the North Pole. Painted in 1823-1824 in Dresden, the city of Richter’s birth, Friedrich depicts the heroic ship trapped in the ice as it charted the then unprecedented Northwest Passage in 1820.
Rich with autobiographical import, The Sea of Ice references a terrible experience in Friedrich’s life. When Friedrich was ice-skating aged just 13, he was saved from drowning by his brother. However, in doing so, Christoph tragically drowned in the icy water. Friedrich watched helplessly as his brother drowned.
The Sea of Ice held an important place for Richter. Like The Sea of Ice, Eisberg communicates a sense of tragedy and loss. Dietmar Elger argues: “What Richter saw reflected in the painting… was his own state of mind the photographs he took in Greenland were visual analogues for his own failed hopes. He was exhausted by the struggle to find his own way as a husband and father, and felt that his dream domestic happiness had, as a consequence, been wrecked.”
Richter created three Iceberg paintings Eisberg is the largest of them. The second work is held in the prestigious collection of Doris and Donald Fisher that is promised to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. A third work, Eis (1981) sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2012 for £4.3 million ($6.75 million).
The appearance of Eisberg in the art market is generating great excitement at Sotheby’s “For an artist who so consistently sought to objectively portray everyday nature as filtered through photography, the iceberg paintings hold a special place among Richter’s landscapes, coming closest to the transcendental sublime of 19th century German Romanticism,” notes Alex Branczik, Head of Contemporary Art, Sotheby’s Europe