Frank Auerbach : Four Portraits of Catherine Lampert

Past display archive
14 March - 6 September 2009

Room 32

Free

Head of Catherine Lampert, 2000, Private Collection - © Frank Auerbach

Head of Catherine Lampert, 2000
Private Collection
© Frank Auerbach

Frank Auerbach is one of Britain’s most distinctive painters: an artist for whom the creation of a raw, living image, made in response to the presence of a seated model, has for over fifty years been a fundamental, ongoing preoccupation. The Gallery is mounting a special loan display which brings together four portraits of the art historian Catherine Lampert, one of the artist’s principal sitters, which attests the compelling character of Auerbach’s endeavour.

Born in Berlin in 1931, Auerbach came to England in 1939, a refugee from Nazi oppression which claimed both his parents.   While still a student at St Martin’s School of Art in the early 1950s, Auerbach attended night classes given by David Bomberg at Borough Polytechnic.  This experience significantly shaped the young artist’s development.  Bomberg emphasised the need to evoke the sensed experience of another human being – their weight, mass, position and presence – above and beyond the imperative to describe a subject’s literal appearance. 

This approach stands at the centre of Auerbach’s practice, whether when making an on the spot drawing of a local landscape motif, or responding in charcoal or paint to a model in the studio.

Catherine Lampert Seated, 2006-8 Private Collection - © Frank Auerbach

Catherine Lampert Seated, 2006-8
Private Collection
© Frank Auerbach

In both cases, the process of giving graphic shape to observed reality – a digested response, as much felt as seen – is paramount.

The four portraits on display were made between 1989 and 2008, a period of almost twenty years which alludes to the protracted nature of Auerbach’s engagement with particular sitters.  Rooted in drawing, his method relies on numerous studies made from life preparatory to - and during - the process of making a painted image.  Characteristically, Auerbach scrapes back paintings in progress, repeatedly recreating the evolving image.  In this way, his response is informed by continual, intensive observation and the gradual accretion of empirical information.  The resulting portraits are startling things: inert matter infused with an inexplicable vitality.