Illustrated companion

The paintings of Frank Auerbach are remarkable not least for the way the image of some observed reality is incorporated into structures of paint which have an exceptionally powerful and independent reality of their own. This way of working is certainly connected with the general desire of modern painters to make work which, in Auerbach's own words, is '... a new thing for the world. that remains in the mind like a new species of living thing.' But in Auerbach's case the exceptional thickness of the paint and its heavily worked character also vividly express the struggle of the artist to realise in paint the image that has moved him.

This painting has its origins in drawings made during 1963-4, and took the best part of 1964 to execute, Auerbach arriving at the final image by a constant process of reworking. The room is the sitting room of his friend E.O.W. whom Auerbach visited several times a week to paint during 1963-5. E.O.W. appears in profile leaning forward in her chair on the left of the picture. Across the room in the other chair is her daughter Julia. Beside this chair is a tall standard lamp providing the major light source for the room and forming the lightest area of the painting. Between the two chairs is a low collapsible table and in the background on the right is a window revealing evening light outside. Above the head of E.O.W. are three objects of particular interest in the context of modern painting since they evoke some of the different ways in which people can be represented: on the wall is a framed painting of E.O.W. by Auerbach; to the lower right of it, on the bookcase, is a framed photograph of E.O.W.'s late husband, while on the mantelpiece immediately above E.O.W.'s head the small reddish object is a sculptured head. The tension in Auerbach's painting between the reality depicted and the reality of the paint is enhanced here by his use of a palette of close-toned earth colours and by his treatment of the images as flat shapes interlocking on the surface. Taken with the emphatic geometry of the main lines of the composition the result is a painting which appears simultaneously as an abstract work of austere beauty, and a vivid evocation of a reality filled with human and artistic significance.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.248