About This Artwork

Gerhard Richter
German, born 1932

Woman Descending the Staircase (Frau die Treppe herabgehend), 1965

Oil on canvas
198 x 128 cm (79 x 51 in.)

Roy J. and Frances R. Friedman Endowment; gift of Lannan Foundation, 1997.176

© Gerhard Richter

Throughout his career, Gerhard Richter has alternated between figuration and abstraction. Woman Descending the Staircase is one of Richter’s photo paintings, figurative works in which the artist transferred found photographs, such as personal snapshots or media images, onto canvas and then dragged a dry brush through the wet pigment, thus blurring the image and rendering the forms elusive. Here, the slightly out-of-focus quality reinforces the motion of an unknown, glamorously dressed woman descending a set of stairs. The work’s silver-blue brushwork suits the elegance of the subject with her glistening evening gown and diaphanous scarf. The composition’s subject and title evoke Marcel Duchamp’s famous work Nude Descending a Staircase (1912; Philadelphia Museum of Art). When it was exhibited in the United States at the 1913 Armory Show, Duchamp’s painting shocked Americans for its radical abstraction. Rather than honoring this modernist icon, Richter protested it, stating that he “could never accept that it had put [an end], once and for all, to a certain kind of painting.” Indeed, in the Art Institute’s work, Richter produced a hauntingly sophisticated image that floats between reality and illusion.

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