Frank Auerbach

Mornington Crescent - Summer Morning

2004

Artist
Frank Auerbach born 1931
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Unconfirmed: 1327 x 1323 mm
frame: 1575 x 1575 x 97 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2015
Reference
T14236

Summary

Mornington Crescent – Summer Morning 2004 is a large oil painting in a nearly square format. It represents a street view, with tall and prominent buildings lining the road, which runs directly down the centre-right of the canvas and disappears into the low horizon. The composition is notionally divided along the diagonal line running from the top left to the bottom right of the canvas. On the lower left side, two tall buildings, together with the street, are painted primarily in warm colours, with a predominance of yellows and oranges. On the upper right side of the painting, dominated by the sky and also featuring a traffic light, a lamp post and some less prominent buildings, the prevailing colour is blue, while clouds forming in the top part of the canvas merge chromatically with the building standing on the far right, framing the intense blue of the sky. The foreground is dominated by the activities taking place in the street, with passers-by and a vehicle in the act of turning.

The painting captures the intense process of its making, with the use of large paintbrushes to apply the paint energetically and at speed. Numerous elements in the composition – such as the windows and edges of the buildings, rooftops, cars and passers-by – are highlighted with thick brushstrokes using paint of a colour that contrasts strongly with that used for the background. Such numerous, prominent and mostly straight marks give the work a rhythmic tempo. Their angular nature contrasts with the highly gestural quality of the brushstrokes that build up the large areas of the sky, road and buildings. The use of bright and lively colours, particularly in the case of the blue of the sky, the orange of the road and the yellow of parts of a building and one of the rooftops, convey the sense of a glorious, sunny morning.

Mornington Crescent – Summer Morning depicts a key subject that Auerbach has explored extensively since moving to his studio in Camden Town, North London, in 1954: landscapes representing the nearby streets, buildings and parks, particularly Primrose Hill, that he knows intimately and which he has continued to draw and paint over six decades. There are three works relating to this subject in Tate’s collection: Primrose Hill 1967–80 (Tate T01270), To the Studios 1979–80 (Tate T03247) and To the Studios 1990–91 (Tate T06635).

Landscape paintings such as Mornington Crescent – Summer Morning usually take as a starting point a number of drawings made by the artist in situ, with the final composition being arrived at in the studio. Auerbach often returns to the site to make further drawings and fresh observations which are then developed in the painting back in the studio. Each work is usually the result of a long process of cyclical painting and erasure, with the artist scraping and blotting off the paint while still fresh, and re-starting the entire work numerous times. Nevertheless, this does not equate to starting afresh on a bare canvas: traces of the previous painting remain on the canvas and each previous version is the starting point for a new one.

The execution of each painting is the result of great physical effort, as arriving at the ultimate version of the composition demands numerous hours of intense activity. The work is also the result of the artist’s direct engagement with the subject, accepting and rendering the sensations and instinctive reactions to what is being depicted. Auerbach has stated: ‘I am working on the structure of the painting; whatever else that comes through is not conscious’ (quoted in Ordovas 2013, p.13). He goes on to explain that each work embodies something more personal than just its immediate subject matter: ‘it’s never just topography, it is never just recording the landscape. It always has to do with some sort of feeling about my life’ (quoted in Ordovas 2013, p.17). Of the specific subject depicted here, he has said:

I haven’t painted [Mornington Crescent] to ally myself with some Camden Town Group, but simply because I feel London is this raw thing ... This extraordinary, marvellously unpainted city where whenever somebody tries to get something going they stop halfway through, and next to it something incongruous occurs ... this higgledy-piggledy mess of a city.
(Quoted in Bumpus 1986, p.27, reprinted in Royal Academy 2001, p.100.)

Further reading
Judith Bumpus, ‘Frank Auerbach’ (interview), Art & Artists, June 1986, p.27, reprinted in Isabel Carlisle, ‘Landscapes’, in Frank Auerbach, Paintings and Drawings 1954–2001, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 2001, p.100.
Frank Auerbach, Taco Dibbits, Geoffrey Parton and Pilar Ordovas in conversation, in Raw Truth, exhibition catalogue, Ordovas, London 2013.

Elena Crippa
January 2015

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