Contextual focus point: Frank Auerbach’s portraiture

Frank Auerbach paints by building up layer and layer of paint. He paints the same people over and over again, and each painting is an accumulation of hundreds of sittings, with the paint scraped back to the canvas at the end of each day until the resulting image is ‘right’. A huge amount of paint is applied to the canvas and close up they appear as a mass of colour and texture, it is only in stepping back from the image that it comes into focus.

I have only seen one of his paintings in the flesh, ‘Maples Demolitions, Euston Road, 1960’ in Leeds art gallery. I found the close up views of the textures and colours of the paint interesting, but was less moved by the overall impression of the image.

Viewing his portraits on screen will not give the same experience and his portrait paintings seen this way do not inspire me. I am sure they would offer more if viewed in person though. The image which did grab my attention whilst searching was ‘Self-portrait, 1958’ (, n.d.), this image in charcoal and chalk on paper which has been patched or collaged I find very powerful. The collaged background produced interesting random marks which appeals to me and the charcoal drawing has a sense of energy and urgency. In contrast to his paintings this appears like a much quicker drawing.


Sooke, A. (2015). Frank Auerbach, Tate Britain, review: ‘astonishing’. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: [Accessed 19 Jul. 2019]. (n.d.). Frank Auerbach | Self-portrait (1958) | Artsy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jul. 2019].


Auberbach, F. (1960) Maples Demolitions, Euston Road [oil on board] 148.6 x 153.7 cm At: Leeds: Leeds Art Gallery.

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