Frank Auerbach, Chimney in Mornington Crescent — Winter Morning, 1991. Oil on canvas, 56 3/8 x 52 3/8 inches (143.2 x 133 cm). © Frank Auerbach. Private collection. (Courtesy: Marlborough Fine Art, London and Luhring Augustine; Photo: Farzad Owrang).    

Let me say straight off, in relation to Frank Auerbach, how compelling I found, as might be true of the many readers of W.G.Sebald, the fictional Jewish refugee painter Max Ferber in Sebald’s 1992 novel “The Emigrants” – originally called “Max Aurach” for Auerbach. A personal note to that: a few summers ago, my husband and I left our ancient and more than rustic Vauclusian cabanon in Provence and drove to Aix-en-Provence to see “Austerlitz,” the rendering of this book on the screen. We found it both unforgettable and perhaps all the more enticing, and yet next to un-understandable, as we were finally and fortunately seated among the super well-dressed audience surrounding us – we were certainly less well-clothed and surprised to have made it there. 

The Luhring Augustine show marked the first solo US exhibition of this scale since 2006 of this more than remarkable 90-year-old painter, who is still living in London. Safe to say that there is nothing in this extraordinary exhibition that doesn’t lead somewhere else. Take the initial oil on board painting of “The Awning I” from 2008, where an arrow directs us leftwards, and, I am presuming, onwards. 

Frank Auerbach, The Awning I, 2008. Oil on board, 18 1/8 x 18 7/8 inches (46 x 47.9 cm). © Frank Auerbach. Private collection, CA. (Courtesy: Marlborough Fine Art, London and Luhring Augustine, New York; Photo: Farzad Owrang).

Yet another personal connection: the first portrait we encounter on our arrival in the main room of the gallery is the “Head of David Landau,” (2016). I once had the honor of visiting David Landau— a favorite model and friend of the painter, with a writer friend in St. John’s Wood, who had worked with David and someone close to him. This kind of coincidence seems to occur often in the art world. In contrast, in the not so far away world of poetry and the like, it happens rather differently. In any case, I felt singularly drawn to this painting – can I say: “drawn to this head?”—for a number of reasons, personal and aesthetic. 


Frank Auerbach, Head of David Landau, 2004. Oil on canvas, 18 1/4 x 20 1/8 inches (46.4 x 51.1 cm). © Frank Auerbach. Private collection. (Courtesy: Marlborough Fine Art, London and Luhring Augustine, New York; Photo: Farzad Owrang).

Other heads were no less exhaustingly fascinating, from the front and the sides – with the glimpse of the actual thickness of the whooshing brushstroke, the ridges standing straight up, as if askance, and that whoosh almost audible in its excitement. From the side, you feel, not just perceive, the melancholia in the mouth as you had not from the front, where in fact, you are taken in by the closeness. Then the distance from whatever angle you read it lies still in the radius of that power of portrayal. We, the observers unschooled in the strokes splashed or scumbled into the surface, feel that head, that painted head, to be inescapable. And it still feels to me, now, hours and miles away from the gallery.   

Among the cityscapes or landscapes, if we can call them that, the one that seized me, right there, was “Chimney in Mornington Crescent—Winter Morning,” (1991) — with its slanted mysterious houses to the left so reminiscent for me of my mother’s favorite painter from her time in Bremen, Lionel Feininger. 

I had been prepared, sort of, by the always perceptive writer Jason Farago’s review in the NYTimes of January 22, 2021, of this exhibition of four decades of the artist’s work headlined (ironic use of that word here!) as “Industrious Portraits of Gloopy Glory.”

Frank Auerbach, Catherine Lampert Seated, 1994. Oil on board, 24 x 22 inches (61 x 55.9 cm). © Frank Auerbach. Private collection. (Courtesy:  Marlborough Fine Art, London and Luhring Augustine, New York; Photo: Farzad Owrang).

Farago terms them –- so wonderfully vivid is his writing always– as “viscid, murky, closely held… dense, congealed” and indeed, from wherever you see them, they become both nearer and further from your looking. Yes, indeed they are full of zigzags and hairpin turns, as Farago says; his remark about a 1994 portrait of “Catherine Lampert Seated,”  (1994), in its “almost vulgar density” is followed by its “tangle of lines that would be Cubistic if they weren’t so wide and sloppy.” And the brush strokes are exactly seen as raw and trembling, while the pigments of the impasto “ripple and undulate, clot and coagulate.” 

Hearing and reading that afterward, our own mind turns toward Van Gogh, as it does anyway with the overhead light sun disk in his “Interior Vincent Terrace II,” (1984).



Frank Auerbach, Interior Vincent Terrace II, 1984. Oil on canvas, 48 x 52 1/2 inches (121.9 x 133.3 cm). © Frank Auerbach. Private collection. (Courtesy: Marlborough Fine Art, London and Luhring Augustine, New York; Photo: Farzad Owrang).

“The incoherence of experience caught in the coherence of an independent form 1


Lee Hallman, the art historian and curator, writes this of a painting not included but perfectly visible in her words. “Consider Auerbach’s Mornington Crescent – Early Morning (1991), in which … suggestions of cars and buildings and street signs and people rise into view out of jagged, syncopated strokes of dissonant red and green, blue and yellow. The jumble of London’s built environment is transformed, through the vibrant palimpsest of Auerbach’s abstracted brushstrokes, into a fragile but radiant cohesion…

The resulting images, which hover between solid form and inchoate brushwork, are not mimetic transcriptions of the landscapes signified in their titles but visual distillations of the artist’s cumulative perceptions of the site: ‘the incoherence of experience caught in the coherence of an independent form,’ as Auerbach has stated.

To behold Auerbach’s landscape paintings is to participate imaginatively in the artist’s creative act: to follow the space-and-form-generating sweeps and lashes of oil paint by which he transforms his painted surfaces into coherent visual worlds.” 2


  [1] Frank Auerbach, in Michael Peppiatt, “Talking to Frank Auerbach,” in Frank Auerbach: Recent Works, exh. cat. (New York: Marlborough Gallery, 1998), 5.

[2] Lee Hallman, note to the author of this review, on February 22, 2021, for which I am most grateful.