Review – Gerhard Richter – Atlas

Brief:- Take a look at Gerhard Richter’s Atlas. You’ll see that Richter has placed together multiple images of a similar subject – a particular colour in the sky, similar types of buildings, trees and types of portrait. Its called a typology.

Gerhard Richter, 1932, Dresden. Studied fine art, influenced by Lucio Fontana, Jackson Pollock (McCarthy, T; 2011)

Volker Bradke 1966 Atlas sheet 26Fig. 1. Volker Bradke (1966)

Initial thoughts – Two photos of the same person. Possibly a young armed forces recruit, national service, the hair cut and the shirt suggest this to me. The blurred image is symbolic of the person left behind. The personality change from the boy and innocence that was, becoming the man that is, the clear head shot of the new recruit. A very simple typology of two photos that create a narrative. My analysis may be in-correct but this typology does create a story for the viewer to interpret.

Fur 48 portraits 1971 Atlas sheet 30Fig. 2. Für 48 Portraits (1971)

Initial Thoughts – Mahatma Gandhi and Moa Tse Tung are immediately obvious. The other men look like they are men of importance, their dress and the formality of many of the portraits suggest this. Most have a serious and studious expression. These men are considered to be great thinkers, philosophers, scientists and leaders of their time. The photos are displayed in grid format, and there are a further 10 sheets, one of which contains a biography and two are representations for an installation. This typography appears to be documentary and representative in style.

Further reading highlights that Richter found these images in books, and are of prominent people whose portraits were taken in between 1824 and 1904. The men are all white, no women at all. Richter then painted 48 of these people for the German pavilion of the 1972 Venice Biennale. I find it interesting that although the photos in the 8 sheets include politicians and artists, Richter chose not to include these in his final 48. (2018a; Casella, A) Casella quotes Richter’s reflections upon this series “I am interested in the speechless language of these pictures. Heads, even if they are full of literature and philosophy, become quite unliterary. Literature is invalidated; the personalities become anonymous. That’s what is important to me here.” (2018b; Casella, A)

Mountain Ranges 1968 Atlas sheet 129Fig. 3. Mountain Ranges (1968)

Initial Thoughts:- Rather dull monochrome images of mountain ranges. Banal, sterile and the only obvious context is they are a representation of mountains. Does exactly what it says on the tin, with no meaning beyond the representation. However, these photos, as with many of the typologies from Richter’s Atlas, are props for his drawing and painting. The Mountain Range series becomes a tool so that Richter can create both literal and abstract works of art. Richter seems uncertain of what his art represents. He has stated that painting is about discovering the known, a literal representation, and then in the same interview he states that painting is about the unknown and incomprehensible (abstract) (McCarthy, T; 2011). My impression is that different aspects of Richter’s work have different meanings, and ask different questions of the viewer.

Gebirge 1968Fig. 4. Gebirge (1968)

Richter is both an artist and photographer, and he uses these skills in their own right, and also combines them together and overpaints photography (see Overpainted Photographs here).


Figure 1; Richter, G; 1966; Volker Bradke Atlas sheet 26; AT: (accessed on 20/02/2018)

Figure 2; Richter, G; 1971; Für 48 Portraits Atlas sheet 30; AT: (accessed on 20/02/2018)

Figure 3; Richter, G; 1968; Mountain Ranges Atlas sheet 129; AT: (accessed on 20/02/2018)

Figure 4; Richter, G; 1968; Gebirge (amphibolin on canvas); AT: (accessed on 20/02/2018)


Casella, A; 2018a; Notes; Online AT: (accessed on 20/12/2018)

Casella, A; 2018b; Notes; Online AT: (accessed on 20/12/2018)

Richter, G; 2018; Overpainted Photographs; Online AT: (accessed on 20/12/2018)

McCarthy, T; 2011; Blurred visionary: Gerhard Richter’s photo-paintings; Online AT: (accessed on 20/02/2018)

4 Replies to “Review – Gerhard Richter – Atlas”

  1. I do not like Richter’s photos nearly as much as his paintings and his early drawings are wonderful. Did you see his retrospective in Tate Modern a couple of years ago? Organised by year and very informative. He seems to work in several styles simultaneously.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I find the concept of Atlas fascinating. There is so much to explore in Richter’s work. I am currently finding abstracts fascinating and therefore being reminded of Richter’s Mountain Ranges very timely. As always a thorough review with good and interesting interpretation.

    Liked by 1 person

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