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Auerbach landscape painting
Auerbach landscape painting

Frank Auerbach, Primrose Hill, 1978. Oil on board. Private Collection.

© Frank Auerbach; Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art, London and Luhring Augustine, New York.

The first time I understood Matisse’s audacious green line brushstroke in his 1905 painting of his wife, Portrait of Madame Matisse (The Green Line), was as a radical cancellation of any contract of faithful portrayal between sitter and artist. Ultimately, though, such a gesture is integral to the artist’s fidelity to both his subject and to painting itself. That apparently superfluous green line boldly bisecting Madam Matisse’s face was essentially what held her Fauvist portrait together. It’s this same quality of painterly, gestural intervention serving as the inevitable mortar for painting’s irrefutable objective facture (together with its subjective quiddity), that permeates the paintings of Frank Auerbach. There are all manner of what may seem like willfully incidental brushstrokes in Auerbach’s paintings that nevertheless construct a reality out of his subjects’ inherent “emanations.”

There are a number of portraits presented at Luhring Augustine in this tightly-curated survey of Auerbach’s paintings and drawings, which also includes some of his relatively larger landscapes. It’s a welcome opportunity to review up-close a number of mature works by an artist much more well known (as practically a national treasure, really) in his adoptive homeland in the UK. Sent at seven years old by his German-Jewish parents just prior to WWII from their home in Berlin to safety in Britain (both the artist’s parents would die at the hands of the Nazis), Auerbach later attended art classes at The Royal Academy, St. Martin’s and London’s Borough Polytechnic where he and his classmate from St. Martins, Leon Kossoff, came under the tutelage of the older painter David Bomberg. Bomberg, formerly involved in the dynamic, British variation on Futurism known as Vorticism, was then in a period of his work that had returned to an expressionist figuration that nevertheless retained the angular spatial thrusts of the Vorticist kind. This compositional sway within a figurative inclination has seemingly had the largest influence on Auerbach and can be seen throughout his works presented here.

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