Gerhard Richter may have expressed his shock when one of his squeegee paintings sold for £30.4m at Sotheby’s last February, making him the world’s most valuable living painter, but this record could be toppled again at the London auction house next month. Abstraktes Bild (1990) is the top lot in Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale on 10 February, and carries the same estimate as last year’s record-breaking picture: £14m-£20m.
Its provenance is likely to help. Abstraktes Bild is being sold by the Iranian collectors Eskandar and Fatima Maleki, who intend to put the money raised by the sale into other art-related projects. The Malekis bought the painting in 1996 from Marian Goodman and Anthony d’Offay—Richter’s dealers at the time (Goodman still represents the German painter).
Richter is said to have been so taken with the work that it remained in his private collection until 1996 when it was unveiled at an exhibition of the artist’s personal paintings at the Carré d’Art in Nimes. That year it was also exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Munchmuseet in Oslo, and has not been shown publicly since.
“The years 1989 and 1990 are the most sought-after in Richter’s works,” says Isabelle Paagman, Sotheby’s senior specialist, contemporary art. “During this time he really embraces the squeegee technique in his abstract paintings. More than half of Richter’s works from that period are in museums.”
Paagman says his use of grey in Abstraktes Bild also makes it highly sought after. Grey is of particular importance for Richter; in a 2004 interview he described it as “the ideal colour for indifference, fence-sitting, keeping quiet, despair”.
Over the past four years, Richter has seen his auction record broken three times. It remains to be seen whether this will be record number four.