Frank Auerbach

Primrose Hill


Not on display

Frank Auerbach born 1931
Oil paint on board
Support: 1219 × 1467 mm
frame: 1345 × 1595 × 80 mm
Purchased 1971

Display caption

The park at Primrose Hill in north London has been one of Auerbach's principal subjects. He worked daily on this painting for over a year, making more than fifty working drawings in all seasons and at different times, including midnight. The park's changing appearance influenced the development of the painting, which was continually scraped back and repainted.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Frank Auerbach b. 1931

T01270 Primrose Hill 1967–68

Inscribed ‘Frank Auerbach’ on back batten, and ‘Primrose Hill/1968’ on back of board.
Oil on hardboard, 48 x 57¾ (122 x 146.5).
Purchased from the artist through Marlborough Fine Art (Grant-in-Aid) 1971.
Exh : Recent Acquisitions, Marlborough Fine Art, July–August 1968 (4, repr.); Marlborough Gerson Gallery, New York, September–October 1969 (44, repr. in colour, p. 23); Marlborough Fine Art, January 1971 (13, repr. in colour).

Auerbach painted three pictures of ‘Primrose Hill’ in the years 1967–9: T01270, a version at the Los Angeles Museum and ‘Primrose Hill, Autumn Morning’ (private collection, London). He worked daily on T01270 for more than a year, and he finished it first. He cannot remember the sequence of the other two.

He wrote (16 March 1971): ‘I did about 50 working drawings at all seasons, and different times of the day and night, looking up at the Hill from the corner opposite the zoo entrance.’

On 16 March 1972 he added: ‘The titles of my pictures... refer to the season and time of the impulse by which the painting was finished. It is my usual practice at the moment and for the last ten years (but I have no liking for a set practice and hope always to surprise myself) to start the day by doing a drawing outside so as to have an impulse, an idea, a new fact, a newly discovered structure to work from—and then to paint with older and newer drawings pinned up. The T01270 was finished in the Autumn from a drawing done in the morning. I also did drawings at other times—including midnight—while it was going on.’

He told the compiler that all the drawings of the hill at different seasons contributed to the picture. The painting altered during the year according to the different information he was acquiring. The picture was a visual record of what he was seeing on the hill. At one stage he included a figure in the picture. He described the facts that he collected in the drawings as the ‘compost’ of the painting: they give rise to certain kinds of paint marks. He wrote (16 March 1971): ‘The painting is the result of a multiplicity of transmutations partly as the result of external information, alluded to in the drawings, partly as the result of internal intelligences.’

Referring to the imagery in the picture, the artist identified the branch of a tree, a path, a lamp-post, the slope of the hill; and thought that a set of blue marks on the right might be a puddle; he did not remember what were the orange marks alongside the zig-zagging line of the branch and did not seem to think that it was significant that he was unable to say what the marks represented.

Ile wrote (16 March 1972): ‘I thought often that I had finished it only to become dissatisfied, and remember as a vivid event the afternoon on which I finally and definitely completed it.’ He told the compiler (21 March 1972): ‘I thought I had finished it on the day prior to that afternoon. The painting was then almost black. I suddenly realised that I could work on it further. I turned the picture upside down and completed it the next day.’ The artist’s remark that he had turned ‘Primrose Hill’ upside down refers to his procedure of working on the imagery from all four sides of the picture. (He rests the picture on each of its edges). He said that he did this to ensure that the images and marks were correctly related to each other in every direction. He confirmed that painting in this way approximated to carving an object in sculpture and produced the following analogy: ‘One does not make a machine without turning it upside down to see whether it is properly constructed underneath.’ On 16 March 1971 he made the comment: ‘I should like to add that I see no virtue in my laborious processes, I dare say that grander and more electric images have been made by some, with less trouble.’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.

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