Gerhard Richter was born to a middle class family in Dresden, Germany. Richter’s passion for art began to develop around the age of fifteen while attending summer camp. By 1948, he left the family home in Waltersdorf, Germany and moved to Zittau near the Czech border to study. His first job was as a member of a team producing banners for the German Democratic Republic government as well as working as an assistant painter in the theater. It was soon thereafter that Richter was accepted into the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts (HfBK Dresden), a vocational university of visual arts in his hometown of Dresden, Germany in 1951.
Richter studied mural painting under Heinz Lohmar and was authorized to be able to travel to West Germany and Europe which allowed him access to photography, books, films, museums and the theater. His first major commissioned piece was to paint a mural for the German Hygiene Museum [Deutsches Hygienemuseum] where he received much praise for his work. Following graduation, Richter taught at HfBK Dresden in exchange for the use of a studio where he was subsequently awarded numerous mural commissions during the next few years.
Viewing the work of artists Jackson Pollock, Jean Fautrier and Lucio Fontana in part caused Richter to defect on April 6, 1961 because he felted too restricted in East Germany. He attended Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, the Arts Academy of the city of Düsseldorf, Germany from 1961 to 1964 in order to expand his studies into the Western art world. He developed an interest in society and current affairs which was becoming evident in his paintings. During the 1960’s and early 1970’s Gerhard Richter created various painting from black-and-white photographs. He began exploring abstract art during the 1970’s and carried it with him well into the 1980’s and 1990’s along with international acclaim and success. He is considered to be a pioneer of the New European Painting, a movement in art involving incorporating oil painting and drawings with new media such as photography.
Gerhard Richter has held numerous retrospectives including one of his most recent major exhibitions Forty Years of Painting at MoMA in New York in 2002. In 2007 he was made an honorary citizen of Cologne, Germany and he has also been the recipient of numerous distinguished awards, including the State Prize of the state North Rhine-Westphalia in 2000; the Wexner Prize, 1998; the Praemium Imperiale, Japan, 1997; the Golden Lion of the 47th Biennale, Venice, 1997; the Wolf Prize in Israel in 1994/5; the Kaiserring Prize der Stadt Goslar, Mönchehaus-Museum für Moderne Kunst, Goslar, Germany, 1988; the Oskar Kokoschka Prize, Vienna, 1985; the Arnold Bode Prize, Kassel, 1981; and the Junger Western Art Prize, Germany, 1961.