Frank Auerbach - To the Studios, [4 works]

Frank Auerbach

To the studios (a set of four drawings)

Felt tip pen and crayon on paper: 11.5(h) x 7.4(w) in /

29.2(h) x 18.7(w) cm

Each signed, dated 1979-80 and inscribed with the title on the reverse

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BT 155



Born Berlin 1931


To the studios (A set of four drawings)


Each signed, dated 1979-80 and inscribed with the title on the reverse

Felt tip pen and crayon on paper: 11 ½ x 7 3/8 in / 29.2 x 18.7 cm

Frame sizes: 18 ½ x 14 ½ in / 47 x 36.8 cm

In wax polished oak frames



Marlborough Fine Art, London

Private collection, acquired from the above circa 1980, then by descent



‘What counts most in Auerbach’s work is the sense it projects of the immediacy of experience – not through the facile rush of most neo-expressionist painting, but in a way that is deeply mediated, impacted with cultural memoires and desires which do not condescend to the secondhand discourse of quotation.’ Robert Hughes[1]


Until the late 1970s, Frank Auerbach’s primary landscape subjects were Primrose Hill park and the corner of Camden High Street and Mornington Crescent. From 1977, he began painting the view of the entrance to his North London studios and the path alongside his house leading up to them. Auerbach had occupied the studio space since 1954, its previous occupants including the painters Frances Hodgkins and Leon Kossoff, and his familiarity with the setting allowed him ‘a kind of intimacy and excitement and confidence that comes from inhabiting the painting and knowing exactly where everything is’.[2]


In these drawings, frenetic eruptions of pink and purple, sky blue, acidic yellows, oranges and lashings of thick black, break into dense lattice-like patterns across the paper in a playful cacophony of lines, swirls, and scribbles. The tension between Auerbach’s treatment of

the surface and his feverish construction of recessive space, could be a consequence of the artist’s fear of losing his studio in 1977, an anxiety William Feaver cites as the source behind his new subject: ‘Auerbach has talked of painters being “driven to the easel when there is a crisis in their lives’’. In 1977, when he feared he might be turned out of the studio (a crisis he finally was able to resolve by buying it), he hit on “To the Studios’’ for a motif, those being the words daubed on the wall at the top of the steps leading to his alley, words baldly spelt out in a series of paintings, peremptory words taken literally yet lingering metaphorically, implying as they do the day’s agenda and an urgency to press on regardless of crisis.’[3]


To the Studios is the subject of a series of four paintings of 1977–8 and three paintings of 1979 and 1981. ‘Auerbach begins work each day by making a drawing of the motif that he paints during the day. On this occasion the motif was near at hand (he says he found life ‘distracting’ at the time) and he found ‘there was something about the pile up of the buildings which seemed challenging and worth recording, also, at dawn, when I did my drawings and it was quiet and the rooms were empty or contained sleeping people these buildings seemed a somewhat pathetic accretion of human effort’. The paintings are worked on every day, and he scrapes off parts or the whole of the surface several times a day. He incorporates what he has learnt from that particular day’s drawing in order to make what he terms ‘a mental structure, that is with recording a pictorial statement of a mental structure which somehow stands for an experience of a physical object’.[4]


‘There is a sort of magic in conjuring up a real place’, Auerbach has said.[5]



Frank Auerbach, To the Studios, 1979-80                Frank Auerbach, To the Studios, 1977

Oil on canvas: 123.2 x 102.6 cm                           Oil on board: 45.5 x 51 cm

Tate, London                                                    Pallant House Gallery, Chichester



Frank Helmut Auerbach was born on the 29th April 1931, to Max Auerbach and Charlotte Nora Burchardt.  In 1939 Auerbach was sent to school in England with five other children, sponsored by the writer Iris Origo.   After boarding the ship in Hamburg, he never saw his parents again.  The school, Bunce Court at Lenham, near Faversham, Kent, was evacuated to Shropshire from 1940-45.  Having left school with a Higher School Certificate in 1947, Auerbach acted in plays at the Tavistock, Torch, Twentieth Century and Unity Theatres, where he met Estella West.  He also attended painting classes at the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute.  In 1948 Auerbach enrolled at the Borough Polytechnic Institute, where he studied for two terms before starting at St Martin’s School of Art in September, where he met Leon Kossoff and Phil Holmes.   He continued to go to drawing classes at the Borough Polytechnic, taught by David Bomberg, two evenings a week throughout 1954. 


Declared unfit for the army, Auerbach continued his studies at the Royal College of Art from 1952-55.  In 1954 he moved to Kossoff’s studio in Camden until his marriage to Julia Wolstenholme, another student of the Royal College, in 1958.  Auerbach left the Royal College in 1955 with a silver medal and first-class honours.  He exhibited at the Beaux Arts Gallery summer exhibition and then held a one-man show there in 1956.  He taught in secondary schools and then at various art colleges, including Camberwell and the Slade, one day a week until 1968.  Auerbach first exhibited at Marlborough Fine Art, London in 1965 and has continued to show at its associated galleries. 


In 1978 the Arts Council of Britain held the first retrospective of Auerbach’s work at the Hayward Gallery.  Frank Auerbach Paintings and Drawings 1977-85 was held in the British Pavilion at the XLII Venice Biennale, June-September 1986.  He was awarded the Golden Lion prize along with Sigmar Polke.  In 1990 Robert Hughes published his monograph on the artist.  In 1995 an exhibition based on drawings made from works in the National Gallery’s collection was presented, entitled Frank Auerbach at the National Gallery: Working after the Masters.  In 2001 an exhibition of Auerbach’s paintings and drawings from 1954-2001 was held at the Royal Academy, London.  Frank Auerbach lives and works in London.

[1] Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p.214.

[2] To the Studios, 1979-80, Tate Gallery Label, September 2004.

[3] William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, Rizzoli, New York, 2009, p.18.

[4] The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984.

[5] To the Studios, 1979-80, Tate Gallery Label, September 2004.

Frank Auerbach