Frank Auerbach

The Sitting Room

1964

Artist
Frank Auerbach born 1931
Medium
Oil paint on board
Dimensions
Support: 1282 x 1277 mm
frame: 1376 x 1376 x 84 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1984
Reference
T03933

Not on display

Summary

The Sitting Room was painted in Auerbach's Camden Town studio, which he has occupied since the 1950s. The painting shows the sitting room in the Brentford house of Auerbach's friend Stella West ('E.O.W.'). West, the daughter of the philosopher O.S. Wauchope, was Auerbach's model for most of his nudes and female heads prior to 1973. This house was a special place to the artist and during the years 1963-5 he went there three times a week, in the evenings, to paint E.O.W; he also began making drawings of the room and its contents during this period (reproduced S. Bann, Experimental Painting, London 1970, p.96). Stella appears in profile to the left of The Sitting Room, leaning forward in her chair, while across the room, in the other chair, is Julia, one of her daughters. Beside this chair is a tall lamp standard with a curvy edged shade, providing a major light source in the room and the lightest tonal area of the composition. Between the two chairs is a low collapsible table, and behind the background chair, at the top right of the composition, is a window revealing the evening light outside. On the mantelpiece directly above Stella's head is a small reddish object, a depiction of a sculpted plaster head made by an amateur artist. Set on the wall above the mantelpiece is a painting in a square frame, a portrait of E.O.W. by Auerbach. This painting was abandoned by Auerbach, who considered it unfinished, and was rescued by Stella. Between this painting and the stem of the standard lamp is a rectangular framed object, a depiction of a black and white photograph of Stella's late husband. These last three objects indicate the artist's interest in the different ways of representing the human image.

In the early 1950s Auerbach severely restricted his palette to a range of yellow ochre and other earth colours. By 1960 he had widened this range to include bright blue, green, red and yellow. In The Sitting Room, however, Auerbach reverted to a palette of earth colours, giving the picture a sense of warmth and intimacy. The dealer Helen Lessore (Lessore 1986, pp.56-7) draws attention to Auerbach's use of pigment, which in the 1950s was usually laid exceptionally thickly onto the canvas or board, and is seen to be dense again in The Sitting Room: 'The emphasis on material in modern art probably arises largely from the artist's difficult position today ... Natural, organic things ... have a reality which becomes ever more precious as the world fills up with plastics - and to handle real stuff, even thick paint, gives to some extent the feeling of being a craftsman, of being real oneself'.

Lawrence H. Bradshaw perceptively wrote of The Sitting Room on its showing in 1965: 'The forms are experienced rather than exhaustively explained. There is a depth and atmosphere. The room, as D.H. Lawrence would say, has a soul' (Bradshaw 1965, p.17). During 1964-5 Auerbach painted another record of this room, also entitled The Sitting Room (private collection, Canada).

Further reading:
Lawrence H. Bradshaw, 'Frank Auerbach', Arts Review, vol.17, 20 Feb.-6 March 1965, p.17
Helen Lessore, A Partial Testament: Essays on Some Moderns in the Great Tradition, 1986, pp.69-70
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1988, pp.91-2, reproduced
Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p.154, reproduced pl.22 in colour

Terry Riggs
January 1998

Display caption

Auerbach spent many evenings with his friend and frequent model, Stella West in this sitting room. The earthy colours generate a sense of warmth and intimacy. Stella appears in profile on the left, leaning forward. Across the room, her daughter is seated in a chair beside a standard lamp. As one critic has commented, 'The forms are experienced rather than exhaustively explained. There is a depth and atmosphere. The room, as DHLawrence would say, has a soul'.

Gallery label, October 2000

Catalogue entry

Frank Auerbach born 1931

T03933 The Sitting Room 1964

Oil on hardboard 1282 x 1277 (50 1/2 x 50 3/8)
Not inscribed
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1984
Prov: Beaux Arts Gallery 1964, from whom bt by Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York 1966 from whom bt by private collector, Pittsburgh 1969 and sold to Marlborough Fine Art, London 1984, from whom bt by Tate Gallery 1984
Exh: ? Beaux Arts Gallery, 1964 (no cat.); Frank Auerbach, Marlborough Fine Art, Feb. 1965 (18); Frank Auerbach, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, Sept.-Oct. 1969 (19); Frank Auerbach, AC tour, Hayward Gallery, May-June 1978, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, July-Aug. 1978 (59, repr. pp.55 and 87)
Lit: Lawrence H. Bradshaw, `Frank Auerbach', Arts Review, vol.17, 20 Feb.-6 March 1965, p.17; Tate Gallery Report 1984-6, 1986, p.83 repr. (col.); Helen Lessore, A Partial Testament: Essays on Some Moderns in the Great Tradition, 1986, pp.69-70

This entry is based on a conversation with the artist on 13 April 1988, and a letter from him dated 11 June 1988. It has been approved by him.

Auerbach began a number of drawings of the room and its contents depicted in T03933 during 1963-4. Two are reproduced in Stephen Bann, Experimental Painting, 1970, p.96, and four are reproduced in Jorge Lewinski, Portrait of the Artist: Twenty Five Years of British Art, 1987, p.15. T03933 shows the sitting room in the Brentford home of Auerbach's friend E.O.W., the daughter of the philosopher O.S. Wauchope whose book Deviation into Sense was published by Faber and Faber in 1948. This home was a special place to the artist and during the years 1963-5 he went there three times a week, in the evenings, to paint E.O.W. In the course of these visits, during 1963-5, Auerbach made drawings for the two sitting room pictures one of which is T03933 and the other is in a private collection. E.O.W. appears in profile to the left of T03933, leaning forward in her chair, while across the room, in the other chair, is Julia, one of her daughters. Beside this chair is a tall lamp standard with a curvy edged shade, providing a major light source in the room and the lightest tonal area of the composition. Between the two chairs is a low collapsible table, and behind the background chair, at the top right of the composition, is a window revealing the evening light outside. Three objects are quite prominent, behind the head of E.O.W, and they not only record what was in the room at the time but also indicate the artist's interest in the different ways images of people can be represented. Directly above E.O.W's head, sited on the mantelpiece of the room, is a small object of reddish hue, which depicts a sculpted plaster head made by an amateur artist. Set on the wall above the mantelpiece is a painting in a square frame, which is a portrait of E.O.W. by Auerbach. This painting of E.O.W. has never been shown or reproduced. It was regarded by the artist as unfinished, and retrieved by E.O.W. Auerbach now finds the work `in its way, to be OK' (letter of 11 June 1988). Between this painting and the stem of the standard lamp is a rectangular framed object, which is dark grey in hue; this portrays a black and white photograph of E.O.W's late husband.

The execution of T03933 took the best part of 1964. The work was painted in Auerbach's studio in Camden Town, which he has occupied since 1954. During 1964-5 Auerbach painted another record of this room, also entitled `The Sitting Room' with identical dimensions (private collection, Canada). To establish the view point of the second painting of `The Sitting Room', Auerbach did drawings from behind the background chair seen in T03933. In the second painting, E.O.W's other daughter Sarah occupies the foreground chair in which E.O.W. is seated in T03933.

In her chapter on Frank Auerbach in A Partial Testament, Helen Lessore describes the phases of his artistic development. In the early 50s Auerbach severely restricted his palette to a range of yellow ochre and other earth colours; by 1960 he had widened this range to include bright blue, green, red and yellow. However with T03933 and its companion painting of the same sitting room Auerbach reverted in 1964-5 to a palette of earth colours. Lessore describes the two sitting room paintings and initially relates them back to his early landscapes of the 1950s but finds that they break new ground:

Once more these pictures are painted in earth-colours, but differently used, with a new pictorial effect, beautiful and exciting, and of rather map-like flatness, in which the areas interlock with a very equal tension, so that one has to learn to read what is near or far, what is a solid object and what a flat thing behind it (but once learnt, it all remains clear) - a little as with Bonnard; though whereas Bonnard saw things suddenly in a surface relationship which made them all into a new pictorial whole, and at the same time revealed each person or thing under a new aspect, and then worked away from the subject in order to preserve that revelation, for Auerbach the revelation comes at the end, on the picture, through working. (p.69).
Along with a consideration of Auerbach's colouristic qualities, Helen Lessore draws attention to his use of pigment, which in the 1950s was usually laid exceptionally thickly onto the canvas, and is seen to be dense again in T03933:
a few words on the unavoidable subject of thick paint. The emphasis on material in modern art probably arises largely from the artist's difficult position today. He is not wanted ... Natural, organic things ... have a reality which becomes ever more precious as the world fills up with plastics - and to handle real stuff, even thick paint, gives to some extent the feeling of being a craftsman, of being real oneself (pp.56-7).
Helen Lessore, who ran the Beaux Arts Gallery, and the artist both believe that T03933 was included in 1964 in a mixed hang at the gallery which had no accompanying catalogue. Lawrence H. Bradshaw perceptively wrote of T03933 on its showing in 1965: `The forms are experienced rather than exhaustively explained. There is a depth and atmosphere. The room, as D.H. Lawrence would say, has a soul'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.91-2

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