Wednesday 16 March 2016

Frank Auerbach

'I think all good painting looks as though the painting has escaped from the thicket of prepared positions and has entered some sort of freedom where it exists on its own, and by its own laws, and inexplicably has got free of all possible explanations. Possibly the explanations will catch up with it again, but never completely'. Frank Auerbach.

Frank Auerbach,

at Tate Britain.

When Frank Auerbach was eight years old his parents put him on a train from Germany to Britain, his luggage neatly packed and labelled. It was April 1939 and he would never see them again. He does not even know for certain in which camp his parents were murdered. This early crisis in his life has shaped his art and was most evident in the first gallery of  this exhibition in the dark, raw, with almost pained energy paintings and charcoal drawings. Combining intense realism and an almost abstract grandeur, the paintings are extraordinary and very powerful.

The canvases are thickly layered, scraped and reworked to produce astounding paintings that are not akin to sculpture. In the early years he would paint on top of the previous day's work, hence the very thick surfaces. However, since the 1960s he has scraped down the whole surface before the next attempt.

Auerbach was able to shape the form of this show by selecting, without interference, six small groups of paintings to represent each decade of his career. The subjects never vary: heads and faces of the same people who have been sitting for him for the last forty years; the streets he has wandered most days, from Camden Town up to Primrose Hill; the views over rooftops from his studio window. The last section of the show was curated by Catherine Lampert, who has been sitting for Auerbach for many years.


Head of E.O.W. 1955

This painting has a greater thickness of impasto than almost any in art.

E.O.W., Half-length Nude, 1958

Self-Portrait, 1958

Scraps of torn paper patch together this self-portrait in charcoal and chalk.

Head of E.O.W., 1959-60

E.O.W., Nude on Bed, 1959


Head of E.O.W. II, 1960

E.O.W. and J.J.W. In the Garden II, 1964

E.O.W.'s Reclining Head II, 1966

Studio with Figure on Bed II, 1966

Mornington Crescent, 1967

Primrose Hill, Autumn Morning, 1968

Frank Auerbach ‘The Origin of the Great Bear’, 1967–8
© Frank Auerbach

The Origin of the Great Bear, 1967-78


Primrose Hill, 1971

Reclining Head of Brigid, 1973-4

Winter Evening, Primrose Hill Study, 1974-75

Julia Sleeping, 1978


Over the decades that astonishing early impasto has slowly thinned.

Portrait of Catherine Lampert, 1981-

Frank Auerbach Interior Vincent Terrace 1982-84

Interior Vincent Terrace, 1982-84

Head of Julia II, 1985

Head of Julia II, 1985


Mornington Crescent Looking South, 1997

Head of Julia II, 1997

Reclining Head of Julia, 1996

Head of J.Y.M., 1997


The Pillar Box III, 2000-11

Catherine Lampert's selection:

E.O.W., S.A.W. and J.J.W. in the Garden, 1963

J.Y.M. Seated in the Studio, 1988

J.Y.M. Seated in the Studio VI, 1988

Albert Street III, 2000

Hampstead Road, High Summer, 2010.

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