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The defendant (covering his face) and his lawyer in Cologne district court. Photo: dpa.
The defendant (covering his face) and his lawyer in Cologne district court. Photo: dpa.

Judge Fines Man for Stealing Sketches from Gerhard Richter’s Trash

A Cologne District Court found a man guilty of theft for retrieving four discarded sketches from the garbage outside artist Gerhard Richter’s home in the city’s Köln-Hahnwald district in July 2016. According to Monopol, the forty-nine-year-old defendant attempted to consign the works—which have also been described as “overpainted photographs” by the broadcaster Deutsche Welle—to an auction house in Munich, which agreed to accept the works on the condition that they be authenticated by the Gerhard Richter Archive in Dresden.

The man then proceeded to ask the archive to provide him with a certificate for the sketches, which, according to court documents, may be worth as much as $67,000. The head of the archive, Dietmar Elger, said that the works were “undoubtedly real,” but he did not believe the man’s claim that he had been given the drawings from an artist who had received them directly from Richter himself. “The pictures had no signature and no framing,” Elger said. “In this condition, Richter would never give away his pictures.” He added that the works would have no value on the legal art market.

Five witnesses were called to testify at trial, including Richter, but he was unable to attend due to his ongoing recovery from a recent hospitalization. Communicating through his lawyer, the artist said that he did not have a personal interest in the defendant’s prosecution. However, “he would very much welcome that the works, as originally intended, would actually be destroyed.” Richter, one of today’s highest-earning living artists, has a reputation for meticulously crafting his oeuvre and rejecting his own work—in 2015, the German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reported that the artist decided to disown works from his early West German period.

Ultimately, Richter’s presence in court was not necessary. Judge Katharina Potthoff ruled that the works were still Richter’s property and that by throwing them in the trash the painter “handed them over to a disposal company for the purpose of disposal.” In response to the verdict, the defendant said: “I do not see myself as a thief or a criminal.” While the man will not go to jail for the crime, he has been ordered to pay a fine of roughly $3,529.