Gerhard Richter painting owned by Eric Clapton sells for £21 million – the highest price paid for a living artist
A painting by the German artist Gerhard Richter owned by the musician Eric Clapton has sold for more than £21 million.
By Roya Nikkhah, Arts Correspondent
7:40AM BST 13 Oct 2012
He has made a fortune selling more than 50 million records, but the musician Eric Clapton also appears to have a finely-honed skill in playing the art market.
Now, a painting by the German artist which Clapton bought for £2 million has just sold for more than £21 million.
The picture, described as representing “calculated chaos”, sold for double its estimate last week to set a new record at auction for an art work by any living artist.
The previous record for a work by a living artist was set by the sale of Flag by Jasper Johns which sold for £19.5 million at Christie’s in New York in May 2010.
Clapton, 67, bought the work, entitled Abstraktes Bild (809-4) in New York in 2001 for £2.1 million. The guitarist and singer has amassed vast art collection including impressionist and contemporary works.
In 1997, he sold 32 works for £420,000 at an auction in Christie’s in London, including pieces by the French impressionists Henri Matisse and Edgar Degas.
Abstraktes Bild was bought by an anonymous buyer on Friday night after two telephone bidders competed for more than five minutes during the auction at Sotheby’s in London. Considered one of Richter’s most accomplished abstract works, it finally sold for £21,321,250 to a round of applause in the saleroom.
The 1994 oil on canvas from Clapton’s collection, featuring brush strokes of red, blue, yellow and green, was expected to sell for between £9 million and £12 million at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening auction, but exceeded the artist’s previous record by more than £8 million.
The former sale record for Richter was more than £13 million, established in New York in May for Abstract Picture (7938-3).
Sotheby’s described Abstraktes Bild as a “masterpiece of calculated chaos” and a “paradigm of Gerhard Richter’s mature artistic and philosophical achievement”.
Speaking before the sale, Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s senior director of contemporary art, said: “Abstraktes Bild is one of the great abstract masterpieces by Gerhard Richter, and its appearance on the market presents collectors with the unique opportunity to acquire an outstanding work by one of the greatest living painters.”
Richter, 80, who is based in Cologne, is considered by many critics to be the world’s greatest living painter.
Born in 1932, he grew up in Silesia in modern-day Poland, then part of Germany, under Hitler’s rule . His father, a school teacher, joined the Nazi party but he was scarred by the death of his aunt, who was schizophrenic, at a Nazi extermination camp for the mentally ill.
He fled Communist East Germany in 1961 and defected to the West, where he settled in Düsseldorf and began painting in earnest.
Having mastered figurative painting, he began to explore an abstract style in the 1970s and it was these works that brought him to international recognition and acclaim during the late 1970s and 1980s.
The sister painting to Abstraktes Bild, numbered 809-3, is currently jointly owned by the Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland.
Tate Modern held a retrospective exhibition of Richter’s work last year. His photo-paintings, where he paints over the top of photographs, are also highly sought after, and his works regularly sell for higher prices than any other living artist.