4900 Colours was a major new work by Gerhard Richter comprising bright monochrome squares randomly arranged in a grid formation to create stunning sheets of kaleidoscopic colour. The 196 square panels of 25 coloured squares was conceived to be configured in a number of variations, from one large-scale piece to multiple, smaller paintings. Richter developed a version comprised of 49 paintings especially for the Serpentine Gallery.
4900 Colours in part grew out of Richter’s design for the south transept window of Cologne Cathedral, which replaced the stained glass that had been destroyed during the Second World War. The window, unveiled in August 2007, comprised 11,500 hand-blown squares of glass in 72 colours derived from the palette of the original Medieval glazing. The seemingly arbitrary distribution of colours was generated using a specially developed computer programme. This interest in using chance to define composition was significant in the development of the artist's concept for 4900 Colours.
The development of 4900 Colours was also influenced by Richter's grid paintings, the first series of which was created in 1966 when he replicated, in large scale, industrial colour charts produced by paint manufacturers. As with his photo-paintings, the use of found material as a source removed the subjective compositional preferences of the artist, however, the Colour Chart Paintings took this a step further, eradicating any hierarchy of subject or representational intent, and focusing on colour to create an egalitarian language of art.
Since 1964, Gerhard Richter has had more than 100 solo exhibitions worldwide. He was the subject of a major touring retrospective, Forty Years of Painting, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2002.