Lot 41
  • 41

Frank Auerbach

Estimate
900,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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Description

  • Frank Auerbach
  • Euston Steps 
  • oil on board 

Provenance

Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1988

Exhibited

New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Frank Auerbach: Recent Paintings and Drawings, 1982, p. 33, no. 23, illustrated in colour 

London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Frank Auerbach: Recent Work, 1983

London, Royal Academy of Arts, Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, 2001, p. 117, no. 82, illustrated in colour 

Literature

Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 108, no. 69, illustrated in colour

William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 115, no. 467, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

A chromatic explosion of verdant spring colours bathed in the soft glow of sunlight, Euston Steps is an utterly unique and brilliant display of Frank Auerbach’s iconic impastoed vistas of North London. Until the late 1970s, Auerbach’s renowned landscapes centred upon two small pockets of the capital: his ebullient depictions of Primrose Hill and the geometric contours of the corner between Camden High Street and Mornington Crescent. Thoroughly enamoured by these chaotic environs, in the 1980s the artist expanded his artistic repertoire, lending his hand to the bustling scenes of his local Camden theatre, the exterior of his studio, the interior of Vincent Terrace, the steps of St Pancreas train station and, as evidenced in the present work, those of Euston. Superlative in Auerbach’s oeuvre, Euston Steps is one of only two paintings that focuses on these architectonic stairs. The exclamatory swathes of pigment that pick out a cluster of figures on the right hand side of the composition further add to the rarity of this extraordinary work; it is one of only seven paintings within Auerbach’s entire practice to depict a group of figures. Attesting to its importance, the sister painting, Euston Steps – Study is held in the prestigious collection of the Arts Council, London. Re-affirming Auerbach’s status as one of the most relevant and dynamic painters today, a major retrospective of the artist’s work will open this summer at Kunstmusuem Bonn, which will then travel to the Tate Britain, London in the autumn. Combined with the recent publication of Catherine Lampert’s new tome on the artist, the international excitement surrounding Auerbach’s art has reached completely unprecedented levels.

The neighbourhoods of North London are as synonymous with Auerbach’s oeuvre as his signature viscous application of gluttonous oil paint. Since he moved to Mornington Crescent in 1952, Auerbach has rarely left this small area in the north of the city. Auerbach’s early visions of North London, which he first embarked upon in 1958, were characterised by a raw, primal energy whereby angular orthogonals crash and collide across a surface of heavy paint. By the mid-1970s, however, he had grown “tired of these angular geometries which I’ve dealt with and tried to supersede…”and instead hoped “to make a new thing for the world that remains in the mind like a new species of living thing… The only way I know how to do it, or to try and do it, is to start with something I know specifically, so that I have something to cling to beyond aesthetic feelings and my knowledge of other paintings” (Frank Auerbach in conversation with Catherine Lampert, ‘A Conversation with Frank Auerbach’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Frank Auerbach, 1978, pp. 10-11). Starting with an area he knew intimately, the steps of Euston Station were to provide one of those “new things” that Auerbach so desperately sought.

In order to capture the essence of these enigmatic landscapes, in the mid-1960s Auerbach took his practice outside; a move that allowed the artist to entirely free up his palette. For the present work, Auerbach would frequently visit the steps of Euston Station making numerous sketches in vibrant colours in situ, before returning to his studio to execute the final painting. “I never visualise a picture before I start. I have an impulse and I try to find a form for that impulse. The great benefit of manuring the thing with reality is that reality continually belies one’s expectations: where one expects the grand sweep it suddenly starts becoming petty, where one expects it to be hard it becomes soft, the proportions – almost every day one goes out there, one has different sensation about them” (Frank Auerbach quoted in: Catherine Lampert, Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting, London 2015, p. 176). Indeed, in Euston Steps the solid forms of the steps and the rigid buildings collapse into a visual melee of soft, burgeoning forms that coalesce across the lavishly wrought surface. Increasing the illusion of depth with colour alone, the green tones are contrasted by a full array of ochre and earthy notes to create the warm glow of the rising or setting sun. With characteristic boldness and aplomb, Euston Steps is a definitive example of how Auerbach has completely overhauled and revivified the genre of landscape, bringing a once tired subject firmly into the Twenty-First Century. 

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