Photo Gallery The Lost Works of Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter is one of the world's most important contemporary artists. But he is also his own harshest critic. Recently surfaced photos show works of art that he destroyed half a century ago. Today, they would have been worth hundreds of millions of euros.
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Gerhard Richter is the most famous German contemporary artist, and his works sell for millions. Still, dozens of works have disappeared over the years after being cut up, burnt or painted over by the artist himself.

Foto: GERHARD RICHTER, KÖLN - COURTESY GERHARD- RICHTER-ARCHIV DRESDEN
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Richter was garnering his first acclaim at the time, but he was often at odds with his own art. Still, since his urge to destroy some of his paintings also made him feel uneasy, he photographed them before doing so. Here, an image of a test field with reeds, based on a photo from a farming magazine.

Foto: GERHARD RICHTER, KÖLN - COURTESY GERHARD- RICHTER-ARCHIV DRESDEN
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These photos, most of which were never published, are now either in the Gerhard Richter Archive in the eastern German city of Dresden, where the painter was born, or in a box in his studio in the western city of Cologne. They are testaments to his refusal to compromise.

Foto: GERHARD RICHTER, KÖLN - COURTESY GERHARD- RICHTER-ARCHIV DRESDEN
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The lost paintings are from Richter's very important creative phase in which he opened up new horizons for painting. In the early 1960s, he began working from photographs. The motifs were usually blurred on his canvases, and much appeared in only shadowy outlines. This now-destroyed work from 1964 shows a warship hit by a torpedo.

Foto: GERHARD RICHTER, KÖLN - COURTESY GERHARD- RICHTER-ARCHIV DRESDEN
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Portraits of entire families -- their facades, their outward appearances -- have always been an important subject for the artist. Works like these show how he eventually succeeded in fusing representationalism with abstractionism.

Foto: GERHARD RICHTER, KÖLN - COURTESY GERHARD- RICHTER-ARCHIV DRESDEN
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Richter's destroyed portrait of Hitler from 1962, which he calls "too spectacular": Long before the student uprisings of the late 1960s, Richter had the courage to put an end to the widespread tendency to repress discussion of Germany's recent wartime past.

Foto: GERHARD RICHTER, KÖLN - COURTESY GERHARD- RICHTER-ARCHIV DRESDEN
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In the years in which these paintings were made, Richter was rebelling against abstraction. He had studied in Dresden, where the style known as Socialist Realism was taught. He fled to the West in 1961, before the Berlin Wall was built. At first, he tried his hand at informal paintings in the western city of Düsseldorf, but he destroyed almost all of these abstract experiments.

Foto: GERHARD RICHTER, KÖLN - COURTESY GERHARD-RICHTER-ARCHIV DRESDEN
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These days, Richter says he was impatient at the time and that he's surprised at how many works he continued to destroy after the 1960s. "Sometimes," he says, "time teaches you things." One recognizes, he adds, that although a work may not have achieved what was originally intended, something different was created instead, "something that might be more important."

Foto: Oliver Berg/ dpa