Gerhard Richter’s Skull Painting That Mourns the Loss of Humanity Could Fetch £12m

Speaking of German visual artist Gerhard Richter, we immediately think of his buoyant abstract paintings. In fact, the talented artist has also created paintings in a completely different style. One of the examples is Schädel (Skull), which will be offered a Christie’s London sale next month. Katharine Arnold, a specialist from Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art, shares insight with us about how to appreciate this masterpiece.

German visual artist Gerhard Richter

Q: What’s the meaning of the painting?  

Katharine: This skull painting was created in 1983 when Richter was about 50 years old. He was meditating on the question of life and death. At the same time, he was connecting to Old Master paintings, which often use an image of skull to question life and death. Richter is a German artist who grew up during the Second World War. In a way, by painting these skulls, he is mourning the loss of humanity.

Katharine: What’s interesting is that he painted the image of the skull alongside the bright, colourful abstract painting that we are familiar with. He painted wild colours and at the same time created the poignant image of a skull perfectly lit by bright light from the window. As a 50-year-old man, he was trying to protect himself from the fear of ageing by painting these skulls. It’s also the reason he uses bright colours in most of his abstract paintings.

Katharine Arnold|Specialist of Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art

Q: What’s so special about the technique used?

Katherine: He used a photograph, based on which he created a general outline using pencil. From there, he created the work using oil paints and he blurred the edges of the paintbrush with a dry brush to make it looks like a slightly blurred photograph. It looks like you can almost touch it.

Another painting from the skull series

Q: How rare is the skull series?

Katharine: Richter made eight paintings of skull and this is the first one that he made. Four of them are now in museum collection so only a few remain in private hands. This painting has been kept in the same family since the German collector acquired it in 1988.

Gerhard Richter’s Kerze (Candle) was sold for about £11m in London in October 2011

Q: What’s the estimate of the painting?

Katherine: Besides his iconic abstract painting, Richter also created paintings like this skull series with an image of candles. They both share a similar idea about life. In real life, the candle will eventually burn out. But in his painting, the flame will be lit up forever.

Katharine: The last comparable example by Richter that was in the market was in October 2011. We sold his candle painting for about £11m. Today, if that painting is sold privately, the price could reach up to £35m-40m. It’s been a long time since a masterpiece like this being offered on the market. This skull painting is estimated at £12m-18m (US$15.8m-23.7m) and we think it has the potential to fetch an unprecedented price.

Gerhard Richter. Schädel.

Lot no.: 11
Created in: 1983
Size: 80.4 x 65cm

  • Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich.
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1988.

Estimate: £12,000,000 - 18,000,000