Gerhard Richter’s Premier Color Field Painting Goes to Auction

Gerhard Richter’s iconic painting 4096 Farben is set to be auctioned at Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction in New York on May 18, with an estimated value of $18-25 million.

That work was the culmination of his color field paintings, which were famously inspired by a trip to the hardware store in the mid-1960s. LIke many, he was beguiled by the paint samples there, seeing them as perfect readymades for painting. In 1966, he gestured toward these paint samples in his first color field work, little blocks of color separated by a thin, white grid —just as in those samples— or thin, rectangular charts. In 1974, he created 4096 Farben, which he considered to be the pinancle of that style and was the last in his Color Charts series.

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This painting, composed of 4,096 individual bits of color, immediately calls to mind that supremely modern image of pixels, and has an odd but striking parallel to Beeple’s groundbreaking NFT Everydays: The First 5,000 Days. But 4096 Farben served as the foundation for a much more traditional project, the stained glass window at the Cologne Cathedral.

But why 4,096 blocks of color, and why not one more or one less? Richer discovered that by adding grays and greens into his primary palette, he could conjure up 1,024 distinct hues. Any effort to push the colors further would result in too negligible a shift. To make 4096 Farben, Richter repeated each of the 1,024 hues four times, representing the “maximum number of color combinations before the difference between one hue and another dissolves,” as revealed in a Sotheby’s press release.

4096 Farben is the last and, undoubtedly, the most ambitious of Gerhard Richter’s Color Chart paintings––a series that not only occupied the artist for almost a decade but which inspired him to truly test the boundaries of abstraction within his oeuvre,” said Kelsey Leonard, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction in New York, in the press release.

Richter’s auction record was most recently broken last October when his color field painting 192 Farben sold for $20.5 million.


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