48 Portraits: William James
Gerhard Richter ( German, 1932 )
Anthony d'Offay Gallery
Marian Goodman Gallery
Gerhard Richter’s 48 Portraits is a series of forty-eight black and white photographs of his own 1972 oil paintings of the same name, painted for the German Pavilion at the 1972 Venice Biennale. Inspired by the Neoclassical architecture of the pavilion and its association with Nazi Germany, Richter chose subjects from 288 photographs collected from encyclopedias and dictionaries, and eventually narrowed down to forty-eight men. The original oil paintings resemble soft-focus black and white photographs and feature busts of white, male philosophers, composers, writers, and scientists from the Western world, all born between 1824 and 1904. Subjects of the portraits include Albert Einstein (1999.285.25), Gustav Mahler (1999.285.15), Thomas Mann (1999.285.19), Franz Kafka (1999.285.24), and Oscar Wilde (1999.285.40). In tandem with a uniformity of dress and pose, Richter's 48 Portraits are unified and homogenized by the soft grisaille forms. Though adamant that the 48 Portraits hold no personal meaning, Richter does admit to working with the concept of national identity. In a 2002 interview with the curator Robert Storr, the artist identified the ‘father problem’–or rather the absence of the father figure–as typically German, saying, "That is the reason for such agitation; that is why this work has such a disquieting effect."
This edition of photographs further explores themes seen in other works by Richter, especially his interest in mechanically produced, supposedly inauthentic images and objects. He deliberately plays with the representation of photographic and printing techniques to make plain that these are prints of photographs of paintings of photographs. In other words, the "models" for Richter's works are not the things themselves, but previous representations of these things. Richter is making pictures of pictures.
Charles Wylie, DMA unpublished material, 2001.
Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist, eds., Gerhard Richter: Writings, 1961–2007, (New York : D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers 2009), 422.
- The DMA is the only public or private collection to house Richter's complete work in editions from 1965 to the present.
- Uncube Magazine
See images of the so-called "Nazi" German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which inspired Richter's 48 Portraits.