Gerhard Richter is a German visual artist. Richter has produced abstract as well as photorealistic paintings, and also photographs and glass pieces. He is widely regarded as one of the most important contemporary German artists and several of his works have set record prices at auction.
Richter was born in Hospital Dresden-Neustadt in Dresden, Saxony, and grew up in Reichenau (now Bogatynia, Poland), and in Waltersdorf (Zittauer Gebirge), in the Upper Lusatian countryside, where his father worked as a village teacher. Gerhard's mother, Hildegard Schönfelder, gave birth to him at the age of 25. Hildegard's father, Ernst Alfred Schönfelder, at one time was considered a gifted pianist. Ernst moved the family to Dresden after taking up the family enterprise of brewing and eventually went bankrupt. Once in Dresden, Hildegard trained as a bookseller, and in doing so realized a passion for literature and music. Gerhard's father, Horst Richter, was a mathematics and physics student at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden. The two were married in 1931.
After struggling to maintain a position in the new National Socialist education system, Horst found a position in Reichenau. Gerhard's younger sister, Gisela, was born there in 1936. Horst and Hildegard were able to remain primarily apolitical due to Reichenau's location in the countryside. Horst, being a teacher, was eventually forced to join the National Socialist Party. He never became an avid supporter of Nazism, and was not required to attend party rallies. In 1942, Gerhard was conscripted into the Deutsches Jungvolk, but by the end of the war he was still too young to be an official member of the Hitler Youth. In 1943, Hildegard moved the family to Waltersdorf, and was later forced to sell her piano. Two brothers of Hildegard died as soldiers in the war and a sister, who was schizophrenic, was starved to death in the Nazi euthanasia program.
Richter left school after 10th grade and apprenticed as an advertising and stage-set painter, before studying at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. In 1948, he finished vocational high school in Zittau, and, between 1949 and 1951, successively worked as an apprentice with a sign painter and as a painter. In 1950, his application for study at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts was rejected as "too bourgeois". He finally began his studies at the Academy in 1951. His teachers there were Karl von Appen, Heinz Lohmar [de] and Will Grohmann.
Richter married Marianne Eufinger in 1957; she gave birth to his first daughter. He married his second wife, the sculptor Isa Genzken, in 1982. Richter had two sons and a daughter with his third wife, Sabine Moritz after they were married in 1995.
In the early days of his career, he prepared a wall painting (Communion with Picasso, 1955) for the refectory of his Academy of Arts as part of his B.A. Another mural entitled Lebensfreude (Joy of life) followed at the German Hygiene Museum for his diploma. It was intended to produce an effect "similar to that of wallpaper or tapestry".
From 1957 to 1961 Richter worked as a master trainee in the academy and took commissions for the then state of East Germany. During this time, he worked intensively on murals like Arbeiterkampf (Workers' struggle), on oil paintings (e.g. portraits of the East German actress Angelica Domröse and of Richter's first wife Ema), on various self-portraits and on a panorama of Dresden with the neutral name Stadtbild (Townscape, 1956).
Together with his wife Marianne, Richter escaped from East to West Germany two months before the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Both his wall paintings in the Academy of Arts and the Hygiene Museum were then painted over for ideological reasons. Much later, after German reunification, two "windows" of the wall painting Joy of life (1956) would be uncovered in the stairway of the German Hygiene Museum, but these were later covered over when it was decided to restore the Museum to its original 1930 state.
In West Germany Richter began to study at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Karl Otto Götz together with Sigmar Polke, Werner Hilsing, HA Schult, Kuno Gonschior, Hans Erhard Walther, Konrad Lueg and Gotthard Graubner. With Polke and Konrad Fischer [de] (pseudonym Lueg) he introduced the term Kapitalistischer Realismus (Capitalistic Realism) as an anti-style of art, appropriating the pictorial shorthand of advertising. This title also referred to the realist style of art known as Socialist Realism, then the official art doctrine of the Soviet Union, but it also commented upon the consumer-driven art doctrine of western capitalism.
Richter taught at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design as a visiting professor; he returned to the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1971, where he worked as a professor for over 15 years.
In 1983, Richter resettled from Düsseldorf to Cologne, where he still lives and works today. In 1996, he moved into a studio designed by architect Thiess Marwede. With an estimated fortune of €700 million, Richter was ranked number 220 of the richest 1,001 individuals and families in Germany by the monthly business publication Manager Magazin in 2017.