Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Frank Auerbach
B. 1931
signed and dated 1950; signed on the reverse
oil on board
82 by 61 cm. 32 1/4 by 23 7/8 in.
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Fischer Fine Art Ltd., London
Private Collection, London (acquired from the above in 1985)
Private Collection (by descent)
Tanya Baxter Contemporary, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 229, no. 44, illustrated in colour 
William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 237, no. 4, illustrated in colour 

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1950, at the inception of his artistic practice, Seated Nude represents the foundation on which Frank Auerbach would build his decades-long career. Austere in its simplicity, this work portrays a nude figure sitting in a barren room. Despite the boldly spread legs of the sitter, a protective arm seems to conceal the torso, revealing the sitter’s self-conscious awareness of their nakedness. Rendered in muddied earthy hues, Seated Nude’s palette is significantly more subdued than later works, primarily due to Auerbach’s financial situation at the time of its creation. The application of paint is characteristic of Auerbach’s signature style, though the individual strokes lack the fervour and energy of his portraits of the late 1960s. The artist recalls of this early period in his career: “I could really only afford to work in the way that I did, which was to make a thing again and again and again, by using earth colours and black and white. I used to put grey sludge in tins and hope to use it again” (Frank Auerbach quoted in: Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery; Edinburgh, Fruit Market Gallery, Frank Auerbach, 1978, p. 14). 

At this time, Auerbach had just enrolled in St Martin’s School of Art in London where he would remain until 1952. Under the tutelage of David Bomberg, he developed his style of painting by reworking his compositions over long periods of time, building up layers of paint using brushes, palette knives and even his hands to create his signature impasto technique. Remembering his time in school, Auerbach mused: “we had life drawing all the time. For me it was an education not in drawing the figure, but in thinking about art. It wasn’t simply a repertoire of immensely varied and suggestive forms, but also the subject itself was interesting, as I think you would have to be very weird not to be interested in the naked human being” (Frank Auerbach cited in: Nicholas Wroe, ‘Frank Auerbach: “Painting is the most marvelous activity humans have invented”’, The Guardian, May 2015, online). With its gestural brushwork and formally minimal composition, Seated Nude is exemplary of Bomberg’s avocation for capturing the intensity of expression stripped of all irrelevant matter.

Deeply psychological and hauntingly severe, this early work foreshadows Auerbach’s obsessive portraits of his inner circle removed of all but the essentials of their being. The unwavering fearlessness and profound originality that mark Auerbach’s latest works can be witnessed in Seated Nude, one of his earliest, establishing it as the marker of an imperative moment in the artist’s stylistic development.

Contemporary Art Day Auction