At the National Portrait Gallery

Peter Campbell

You never doubt that Gerhard Richter’s portraits (an exhibition of them runs at the National Portrait Gallery until 31 May) are pictures of photographs. Pictures of photographs, not pictures based on photographs, which is how you would describe them if the photograph took the place of a preparatory drawing. The effect is nothing like that of a painting which, placed alongside its sources, shows how the cleverness you took pleasure in was a more mechanical thing than you imagined. In that case the use of photographs seems like a cheat. Nor are Richter’s portraits based on photographs in the way caricatures sometimes are, when you can recognise the image used, but sinuous outlines, hatchings and simplifications bury the photograph as artefact. Richter’s portraits are pictures of photographs in the way The Hay Wain is a picture of a landscape.

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[*] Gerhard Richter Portraits: Painting Appearances by Paul Moorhouse (NPG, 175 pp., £40, February, 978 1 85514 397 5).