'Haunting and Other-worldly' | Gerhard Richter’s 'Schädel (Skull)'


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The first of the iconic series of eight skull paintings created in 1983 — of which four are now displayed in museum collections — 'Schädel (Skull)' stands among Gerhard Richter’s most poignant, intimate and technically refined works.
Created in conjunction with his celebrated 'Kerzen (Candles)', the work speaks to the artist’s own reflections on mortality in the wake of his 50th birthday — art historian Dietmar Elger describes it as ‘a masterpiece of rare intimacy’ and an ‘allegorical self-portrait’ of sorts.
Based on a photograph taken by the artist, the painting demonstrates the consummate mastery of pigment that — elsewhere in his practice — was beginning to give way to his first real achievements in free abstraction. Sumptuous tonal gradation shrouds the composition in chiaroscuro, bringing it into dialogue with the memento mori still-life tradition cultivated by the Old Masters.
At the same time, its seamless blending of contours and shadow mimics the distortive, blurring effects of the camera: a culmination of the disarming, painterly 'trompe l’oeil' effect first explored in Richter’s photo-paintings of the 1960s.
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