TREE ON PRIMROSE HILL 1984/85
Frank Auerbach (1931 – )
- 122.6 X 148.6
- OIL ON CANVAS
- Accession number
Primrose Hill is a small park in north London whose paths culminate at a high point with a fine view over the city. It’s the local green spot for Frank Auerbach, who has been working in his nearby studio in Camden since the 1950s. He is intensely loyal to his subjects and comes here regularly to draw but does not come for the ‘view’. Auerbach, one of Britain’s greatest living artists, was among a wave of figurative painters in the 1980s that his friend R.B. Kitaj termed the ‘School of London’ – along with Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Michael Andrews, Francis Bacon and Euan Uglow. His artistic life is certainly London-centric. He attended St Martin's School of Art from 1947–52 and at the same time took evening classes at Borough Polytechnic with David Bomberg, one of the leading lights of the avant-garde in pre-1914 London and whose emphasis on the materiality of the painting’s surface had a profound influence on his young student. Bomberg got him drawing the epic changes going on in postwar London, as bombsites became building sites. Auerbach made his observations in sketchbooks on the spot, perched precariously wherever he could get a foothold, watching the shock of raw earth in the cavities and piles of rubble give way to toothpick scaffolding structures, from St Paul’s to South Bank and Oxford Street. These drawings became a series of monumental paintings, as deep in paint as they were entrenched in their subject.
Auerbach is always ‘digging deeper’ (his phrase) and this sees him return again and again to the same subjects, always different – whether drawing from Titian, Poussin and Veronese in the National Gallery or making portraits of his close network of sitters, which require utmost dedication and punctuality. He works on landscape paintings in the studio, referring to scores of working drawings, keeping them on the go in between the arranged time for sitters to arrive and depart. He had been drawing in Primrose Hill regularly, in all seasons, weathers and times until the late 1970s when his focus shifted to the single tree and he has been loyal to the rooted subject as he is to human sitters. Tree on Primrose Hill, in the tradition of great paintings of single trees such as Constable’s Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree (c.1821) and Courbet's Le chêne de Flagey (1864) appears almost more like a portrait than a landscape painting. Where those example show upstanding tree trunks, Auerbach is drawn to an angular trunk, bending to the right, as if weathered by wind. The yellowish grass and brown-red upper reaches suggest that the setting is moving towards autumn but it isn’t useful to try to interpret the broad sections of colour and zigzagging brushstrokes figuratively. Strong angular marks create a space within the painting; the tree is paced around, sensed, living a different life on the canvas.
A piece of cloth woven from flax, hemp or cotton fibres. The word has generally come to refer to any piece of firm, loosely woven fabric used to paint on. Its surface is typically prepared for painting by priming with a ground.
The depiction of shapes and forms on a flat surface chiefly by means of lines although colour and shading may also be included. Materials most commonly used are pencil, ink, crayon, charcoal, chalk and pastel, although other materials, including paint, can be used in combination.
Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection (www.tate.org.uk). There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.
Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.