The daughter of Jean Paul and Louise Richter, both art historians, Gisela was educated in London. She began attending Girton College at the University of Cambridge in 1901, but was not allowed to receive a degree because she was a woman. Richter later attended the British School of Archaeology in Athens from 1904 to 1905. There she wrote an article published in the 1905 Annual of the British School at Athens, and met American archaeologist Harriet Boyd Hawes, who encouraged her to work in the United States. Richter immigrated to America in 1905, and was hired by Edward Robinson, the newly appointed Assistant Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to produce a catalogue of recently acquired Greek vases. By 1910, she was named assistant curator at the museum, and was the first woman to hold the title of “curator” at the Met when she was promoted to full curator in 1925.
As curator of Greek and Roman Art, Richter made many notable acquisitions for the Met, such as the Kleitias stand, the Lydos krater, the famous “Metropolitan” kouros figure, and a Hellenistic Sleeping Eros figure. Well known for her extensive writings, she authored Greek, Etruscan and Roman Bronzes in 1915, and Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks in 1929, a work which helped earn her place among the top classical scholars of the time. The book was reprinted several times; the final edition dates to 1970. Richter also wrote Kouroi: Archais Greek Youths in 1942 and Korai: Archaic Greek Maidens in 1968. She retired as curator in 1948, remained an honorary curator until 1952, and was then named curator emerita. Richter retired in Rome, where she continued to write and revise her books. In 1961, she taught at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, which was her only formal teaching position. Her autobiography, My Memoirs: Recollections of an Archaeolgist’s Life, was published in 1972, the year of her death. Richter’s personal papers were left to the American Academy in Rome; the papers from her career at the Met were left to the museum.