One of Britain’s leading post-war painters, Frank Auerbach, is among the most internationally acclaimed and collected living artists from Britain.
The painting style of Frank Auerbach is both compactly expressionistic and highly individual. Determined by his desire to capture the spirit and reality of people and places, his paintings, which he works and re-works, produce a powerful surface impact. Auerbach’s paintings include landscapes, figure studies, and Old Master-inspired works. In particular, Auerbach’s glee in his intimacy with the urban landscape of London’s Camden Town – where he has had a studio since 1954 – and nearby Primrose Hill. The investigation of the human figure and face is one of Auerbach’s constant themes and he has painted portrait studies of the same small group of people close to him over many years. ‘To paint the same head over and over’ Auerbach has said ‘gives one a sense of pursuing an essential truth’.
As an art student, Auerbach made frequent visits to the National Gallery, and he continues to draw inspiration from its collection of Old Master paintings. It is appropriate therefore, that this nostalgia coincides with the RA’s exhibition Rembrandt’s Women, which includes the National Gallery’s Hendrickje Stoffels a painting that Auerbach has drawn. I went to these exhibitions to find out more and learn about Auerbach’s paintings and his historical influences. As art critic Robert Hughes pointed out, it is the structure of masterpieces such as this Rembrandt portrait that must have affected Auerbach’s own paintings such as Portrait of JYM Seated (1976).
Frank Auerbach was born in Berlin to Jewish parents in 1931. He was sent to England in 1939 and moved from a school in Kent to London in 1947. Between 1948-55 he studied part-time under the artist David Bomberg. Bomberg had been a pupil of Walter Sickert and both these artists, among others, had a great influence on Auerbach’s early development. He studied at Borough Polytechnic (1948), St Martin’s School of Art (1948-52), and the Royal College of Art (1952-55). He had his first exhibition at Beaux Arts Gallery in 1956. In 1978 the Arts Council organized an exhibition surveying twenty-six years of work at the Hayward Gallery. Auerbach represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1986 and has shown regularly since 1965 at Marlborough Fine Art.