Auerbach and Rembrandt share the language of great artby Wessie du Toit / October 7, 2013 / Leave a comment
Frank Auerbach, Primrose Hill, Summer Sunshine (1964). (© Frank Auerbach/Courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art)
Frank Auerbach’s studio, where the painter has worked day and night for almost sixty years, has long been treasured by journalists, photographers and art historians. The dusty room in Camden, devoid of worldly possessions and inhabited by “stratified chunks of paint,” has itself been painted continuously in words, as if visitors are intoxicated by turpentine and charcoal dust. Artists’ workplaces often create magical atmospheres, and these studio narratives fill me with jealousy. But it seems that the urge to describe this room stems also from the fact that Auerbach himself is so difficult to grasp.
Frank Auerbach came to Britain in 1939, aged eight, a refuge of Nazism and soon to be orphaned. He does not fit glamorous notions of artistic genius. Compared with some of his friends in the London group which has dominated British painting in the last six decades—Francis Bacon the stalker of Soho backstreets, Lucian Freud the gambler—Auerbach’s is not a personality that generates its own column inches. Instead, his story is underwritten by patience, erudition and endless repetition. He has painted the same handful of sitters and landscapes in a precise cycle spiralling back to the beginning of his career; only his style fluctuates, gradually, like an ocean. His art, despite the constant respect of his peers, has at times been incompatible with a mainstream establishment seduced by novelty.
However, that is no longer the case. Auerbach now…