Frank Auerbach by Frank Auerbach

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    Frank Auerbach,    by Frank Auerbach,    1994-2001,    NPG 6611,    © Frank Auerbach / Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd / National Portrait Gallery, London
Frank Auerbach, one of the most significant British artists of the twentieth century.
Frank Auerbach
by Frank Auerbach
pencil and graphite, 1994-2001
30 1/8 in. x 22 3/4 in. (764 mm x 577 mm)
NPG 6611
© Frank Auerbach / Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd / National Portrait Gallery, London

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) is a contemporary artist. He first became known in the 1950s and is still making work today.

He is known for his intensive method of painting, where he layers, scrapes, adds, destroys and moulds oil paint. In his drawings he repeatedly draws pencil lines, and repeatedly rubs them out. He can spend years changing and refining a piece of work.

His work helped to take British art in new directions following the Second World War and he is seen as one the most significant artists to emerge in the twentieth century.

Analysing the portrait

  • View larger image
    Frank Auerbach,    by Frank Auerbach,    1994-2001,    NPG 6611,    © Frank Auerbach / Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd / National Portrait Gallery, London
Frank Auerbach, by Frank Auerbach, 1994-2001

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time - look at it for at least a minute. What can you see?

    • At first the portrait looks like a tangle of dark scribbly lines.
    • The lines are angular and spikey, which perhaps makes the mood of the portrait, and Auerbach’s image of himself, seem tormented.
    • The atmosphere of the drawing is also frenzied – as if the artist has made the drawing in a great hurry.
    • The quick, expressive lines suggest movement. You can imagine his hand moving quickly across the paper.
    • The portrait is made up of many drawings, layered on top of each other. This also creates a sense of movement – like a blurred photograph.
    • The viewer has to work at putting together his image, bringing each line into a whole picture. 
    • Auerbach has used pencil and Graphite A soft black mineral used to make pencils. on paper.
    • He has used quick, Gestural Painting or drawing using sweeping, energetic movements. lines and marks.
    • He has drawn strong, dark lines over a mesh of lighter lines and marks.
    • He has smudged the lighter marks underneath and, in some places, rubbed them out to create shadows and highlights that help suggest the form of his face.
    • He made this drawing over a period of six years – returning to it again and again to sit and re-draw himself. This is why there are layers of marks and lines with traces of earlier lines, which he has rubbed out. He has done this so many times that the paper has become very thin in some places.
    • Auerbach has created an Abstract Art that doesn't show people, animals or objects as they really are, but uses shapes, colours and marks to represent them. self-portrait. He feels that straight-forward realistic portraits do not capture what people are really like. He often combines Abstract Art that doesn't show people, animals or objects as they really are, but uses shapes, colours and marks to represent them. and Figuration Art which shows people, animals and objects as they really are. in his work.
    • The drawing captures Auerbach’s likeness, but also captures his vigorous movement as he worked on the drawing, re-working it over and over. 
    • Spending time re-seeing and re-working the subjects of his artwork is a typical process for Auerbach. He often made his portraits over countless Sitting A period of time when somebody sits or stands to have their picture painted or be photographed. , adding and erasing details until he was happy with the result.
Likeness is a very complicated business … If something looks like a painting it does not look like an experience; if something looks like a portrait it doesn’t really look like a person.
Frank Auerbach, 2013

Who is Frank Auerbach?

  • Frank Auerbach was born in Berlin, Germany, to a Jewish family.
  • In 1938, when he was seven years old, Auerbach was sent to England by his frightened parents to keep him safe from the Nazi Belonging to or connected with the National Socialist Party, which controlled Germany from 1933 to 1945. , who had begun their brutal Persecution The act of treating somebody in a cruel and unfair way, especially because of their race, religion, political beliefs, or identity. of Jewish people. Auerbach was one of several thousand Jewish children to emigrate to Britain before the Second World War.
  • Auerbach made his home in England. He studied art in London and was taught by David Bomberg. Bomberg was an inspiring teacher. He influenced a number of artists who went on to become significant, including Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and others.
  • When he was 17, he met Estella ‘Stella’ Olive West. The two became lovers, and Auerbach began to paint her over and over again. He has described this process as a breakthrough in his work, as he tried to capture how he felt about her.
  • Auerbach had his first successful solo show in 1956, in London, but he didn't achieve serious fame until the 1970s. 
  • His work gained more attention because of his association with the School of London A term invented by artist R.B. Kitaj to describe a group of London-based artists who were pursuing forms of figurative painting in the face of avant-garde approaches in the 1970s. . But Auerbach prefers not to be labelled as part of a group and has downplayed its existence.  
  • His combination of Abstract Art that doesn't show people, animals or objects as they really are, but uses shapes, colours and marks to represent them. and Figuration Art which shows people, animals and objects as they really are. , and his interest in exploring how we form an image in our mind and then translate it into an artwork, has influenced and inspired other artists.

Why is this portrait significant?

  • Self-portraits were rare among Auerbach’s work. This was his first self-portrait in 35 years.
  • He said that painting himself was like ‘chasing his own shadow’ and he preferred drawing his friends. He has said: ‘one doesn't ever really know what one looks like.’
  • More recently, Auerbach has made many more self-portraits. He has spoken about how he finds himself more interesting as he has become older.

Questions

  1. What overall impression of Frank Auerbach do you get from this self-portrait?
  1. Do you agree with Auerbach when he says: ‘one doesn't ever really know what one looks like.’ Why?
  1. Find out more about the School of London artists. What linked them together?