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
Throughout his career, Gerhard Richter has alternated between figuration and abstraction, maintaining his characteristic emotional reserve and consummate skill in both modes. The aesthetic territory that he explored in his Photo Paintings of the mid- and late 1960s tended to the assertively mundane. Most of these canvases reproduce apparently ordinary images. In this context, Woman Descending a Staircase is exceptional, distinguished by the elegance of the subject, the formality and drama of the composition, and even the work’s glossy, silver-blue brushwork. This may be Richter’s most glamorous painting. These qualities encourage speculation about the woman’s identity, which remains unknown. Woman Descending the Staircase is not, however, a celebrity portrait. More typological than individual, the work addresses the way photography and painting create impressions of beauty, elegance, and glamour.