Gerhard Richter, early photo-based work (1960s)
escaped East Germany to West Germany, months before the construction of the Berlin Wall. Rejecting both the then-popular styles of abstraction and the
he had been taught in his hometown of Dresden, he experienced a breakthrough when he began painting from photographs, both ones he had found in print media and those from his own personal collection.
However, as his art developed and he oscillated between the figurative and abstract modes of painting that he has become known for, Richter began to destroy many of his photo-based works. Credited as one of the few post-World War II German artists to deal directly with the heritage of National Socialism (Richter’s family included both Nazis and their victims), Richter ultimately destroyed certain works that referenced Germany’s loaded recent history, such as a work depicting Adolf Hitler.
“Cutting up the paintings was always an act of liberation,” the artist told Der Spiegel in 2012. He is thought to have taken a boxcutter and fire to around 60 paintings from this transitional period in his career. Fortunately for those interested in his development as an artist, he was nervous enough about this destruction to photograph many of the works beforehand, prints that still exist in archives today.