Thursday, December 29, 2005


Here is one of Gerhard Richter’s ‘romantic’ landscape paintings, Meadowland (1985).

Source: Mark Harden

Do such images offer the viewer any consolation in the beauty of nature? Richter acknowledges the influence of Caspar David Friedrich, as Michele Light says in an on-line article about Richter:

‘The contrast between Friedrich's brittle, sharply focused views and Richter's diffused portrayals of landscape, (without a stand-in for the viewer), are nevertheless linked by Richter's need to express his right to paint as he wishes, like Fredrich if necessary, and to prepare to re-interpret the type of landscape painting which he has revived. Richter plainly states opinions which ring with Romantic sentiments: "I believe that art has a kind of rightness, as in music, when we hear whether or not a note is false. And that's why classical pictures, which are right in their own terms, are so necessary for me. In addition to that there's nature which also has this 'rightness.'" Characteristically, Richter also stresses an awareness of the "wrongness" of nature (unlike the great Romantics whose focus was harmony) of nature, with its utter disregard for human needs, wants and fears.

Bucolic "Barn," (1984, Collection Massimo Martino Fine Arts and Projects, Mendrisioo, Switzerland) and "Meadowland," (1985, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), are beautiful, but they shut the viewer or the admirer of nature out. The longing to merge harmoniously with Richter's scenes will never be fulfilled; they are not intended as "retreats" into the sublime, or escapes. His paintings make it clear that these nirvanas exist only in the "longing" mind of the viewer: "My landscapes are not only beautiful, or nostalgic, with a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost Paradises, but above all 'untruthful.' By 'untruthful,' I mean the glorifying way we look at Nature. Nature, which in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely mindless, the total antithesis of ourselves." Richter also notes matter-of-factly that his landscapes lack the spiritual basis that underpinned Romantic painting but they offer solace to those who still yearn for the comfort of nature, even those who do not believe in an omnipresent God.’

Despite that last statement it seems clear that there is little comfort to be had in these highly artificial paintings, based on photographs or picture postcards. In a journal entry (18/2/86) (which the article extract above draws upon) Richter explained that our ‘untruthful’ (verlogen) projection of beauty onto a landscape can always be switched off, so that we become aware of the terrible unfeeling reality underneath.

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