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