Lot 249
  • 249

Frank Auerbach

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
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  • Frank Auerbach
  • St Pancras Building Site, Summer 1954
  • oil on board

  • 103 by 128.3cm.; 40 1/2 by 50 1/2 in.
  • Executed in 1954.


Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 84, no. 50, illustrated


Colours: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the overall tonality is richer and deeper in the original with the vertical left brown tone tending more towards a Mojave red. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There are minute bits of yellow sponge and dust adhering to some of the recessed impasto areas of the composition as well as some minor scattered losses to some of the protruding impasto peaks, all of which are only visible upon close inspection. There is a small rub mark an inch beneath the top edge, approximately 15cm in from the upper left corner. Upon very close inspection, there are several tiny cracks adjacent to the centre of the left hand edge. There are several nails visible around the outer edges of the composition which are original to the work's execution. There is a small area of tiny drying cracks to the matte ochre section of paint in the upper centre of the top left quadrant. There are 7 small specks of blue paint towards the lower right corner. There are two paint losses to the centre right section of the extreme top edge beneath the frame. When examined under ultraviolet light there are four small patches of matte retouching in the lower right quadrant, and one larger area in the top left quadrant that fluoresce.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In 1954 shortly before graduating from the Royal College of Art, Frank Auerbach took on a tall, dark and claustrophobic studio space in Camden that had recently been vacated by his close friend and fellow √©migr√© student at the Royal College, Leon Kossoff. Located on the same street as Walter Sickert's studio had been during the heyday of the Camden Town group years before, the physical confines of this new environment prompted a more direct and expressive method of painting that extolled the medium's infinite materiality and malleability. The present work, St Pancras Building Site, Summer 1954, was one of the first large scale landscape paintings that Auerbach made after moving to work in these new premises. Rendered in a virtual monochrome of densely layered ochres and browns, here the colour, shape, tone and line of the composition become one material unity. The sheer quantities of paint used lend the surface a physical presence and endow it with a jewel-like, shimmering viscosity that evokes the uninhibited pleasures of painting advocated in the classes of David Bomberg, under whom Auerbach had studied at the Borough Polytechnic.

St Pancras is one of the earliest paintings to record the beginning of Auerbach's passionately-felt emotional connection with the area in which he has lived and worked for the past fifty years. Like his human subjects, which he limits to a handful of family and close friends that he knows and trusts intimately, the landscapes he has chosen to paint are all those within the small corner of London that he has experienced daily on his pilgrimages to and from his studio. It is an area that stretches from Camden Town to Mornington Crescent and Primrose Hill, and that can be walked in less than half an hour. Despite painting subjects that he is acutely familiar with, each painting involves months of working and reworking as their sculptural surfaces organically evolve through countless stages of development. His technique is notoriously laborious and frequently involves large quantities of paint being expended and discarded with each sitting. Because of this, painting his landscapes en plein air is not possible so instead he relies on a combination of memory and rapidly worked charcoal sketches executed earlier that day to provide the familiar foundations and fresh impetus for each session of painting in the studio. "I go out each morning and draw," Auerbach explained. "I can't really start a painting in the morning until I've done a drawing... I feel dissatisfied with what I'm doing, so I go out and try to notice some fact that I haven't seen before, and once I've been provided with a reason for changing my picture, I can come back to the studio and change it... usually it is a new sensation of proportion or connection, often revealed by the light." (the artist quoted in: Michael Peppiatt, 'Frank Auerbach', Tate Magazine, no. 14, Spring 1998) 

Auerbach's paintings of London from the early 1950s are amongst the most powerful and intense. Like his human portraits from this period, they evoke a love and longing for the subjects they contain. Their sombre palettes and pared-down geometric compositions speak of Post War rationing and uncertainty in a bombed-out London, whilst the energy and perpetual movement embedded within their laboriously worked impasto surfaces becomes an existential affirmation of survival. As a genre, Auerbach's landscapes occupy a position of great importance in his life and work, not just for the acute personal attachment he feels to each, but also because they allow him highly-coveted opportunities to paint in isolation - a freedom which is not afforded by the requirements of his human portraits. They also allow him greater license and creative invention away from the constraints of studied form. As the composition evolves through numerous layers and weeks of sittings, so the landscape develops its own singular identity that inhabits a fluctuating, fragile reality perpetually balanced between analysis and expression which threatens to dissipate once more into the fluidity of the paint that describes it.