In line with the chilly weather, Sotheby’s has revealed the star lot in its contemporary evening sale in London on 8 March: Gerhard Richter’s Eisberg (1982), which carries a hefty estimate of £8m-£12m. The work is widely regarded as one of the German artist’s finest landscapes, and may prove particularly appetising to collectors because it is the largest of only three iceberg paintings he ever made. One is owned by Doris Fisher, who, with her late husband Donald, founded The Gap clothing stores; she has promised it to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The other sold at Sotheby’s London in 2012 for £4.3m (with buyer’s fees), meaning it is arguably unlikely to come back on the market any time soon.
This piece has not changed hands since it was bought by the European consigner in 1983 and is going under the hammer without a guarantee. “We are particularly confident in the Richter market and we also haven’t seen a landscape as important as this for sale in recent memory,” says Alex Branczik, the senior director and head of contemporary art for Europe at Sotheby’s. “Landscape as a genre has been one of Richter’s main preoccupations throughout his career, but he made few of them compared with his abstract paintings. It’s interesting because he mostly paints very mundane landscapes, but this one is probably as close as he ever gets to a more Romantic work.”
Richter painted the work after divorcing his first wife Ema in 1981 after 25 years together. According to his biographer, Dietmar Elger, he painted it while attempting to “take stock of a difficult period in his life”, although trouble was already brewing back in 1972, when the artist took a trip to Greenland and took photographs that would later serve as inspiration for this piece. Richter later said the project was “an excuse for getting away”.
Though this is one of the star lots in the sale, Branczik adds that there will be several works by big-name German artists in the upcoming sale.