Frank Auerbach b. 1931

Provenance

With Beaux Arts Gallery, London
Private Collection, London
With James Hyman Gallery, London
Private Collection, USA, 2005

Exhibitions

1955, London, Royal College of Art, Degree Exhibition, undated
1956, London, Beaux Arts Gallery, Frank Auerbach, 3 - 28 Jan. 1956, cat. no. 5
2006, London, James Hyman Gallery, Building Sites: Paintings by Frank Auerbach, Tony Bevan, Lewis Chamberlain and Glenys Johnson, 2 Aug. - 15 Sept. 2006
2009, London, Courtauld Gallery, Frank Auerbach: London Building Sites 1952-62, 16 Oct. 2009 - 17 Jan. 2010, cat. no. 6
2019, London, Piano Nobile, Craigie Aitchison and the Beaux Arts Generation, 14 Nov. 2019 - 29 Jan. 2020, cat. no. 42

Literature

Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, 1990, Thames & Hudson, pp. 84-85
William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, 2009, Rizzoli, cat. no. 33, p. 239 (col. illus.)
Barnaby Wright, ed., Frank Auerbach: London Building Sites 1952-62, 2009, Paul Holberton Publishing, cat. no. 6, pp. 86-87
Susan Campbell, Craigie Aitchison and the Beaux Arts Generation, 2019, Piano Nobile Publications, cat. no. 42, pp. 124-127 (col. illus.)
Building Site Near St Paul’s: Winter was first shown in Auerbach’s first solo exhibition, held at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1956. It belonged to a group of five ‘building site’ paintings exhibited on the occasion, the others depicting St Pancras, Portobello Road, Earl’s Court Road, and Bruton Street – the road adjoining that on which the gallery stood.

Coloured by the soot of the city and the darkness of the season, the surface of the painting has been overwritten with the iron framework of a new office block and the rearing arm of a crane. A semblance of order is imposed by this linear composition, yet the pervading mood is of winter mud; even the sky above is rendered in hues of brown. The building site in the painting was at the east end of St Paul’s Cathedral, on land bordered by Watling Street and New Change. The area was ravaged by bombing in the Second World War and Auerbach’s painting records the continuing atmosphere of dereliction that attended the city a decade after the conflict.

The work demonstrates Auerbach’s distinctive, additive approach to painting, building up a richly defined surface from great quantities of paint. This technique was partly suggested by the expense of paint; to remove any would be wasteful, something that was unthinkable for a poor art student living in post-war London. As the critic Martin Gayford has explained:

Auerbach could only afford sombre earth colours – so ochres and browns predominated – and was reluctant to scrape off costly pigment; so, as day followed day, the surface became ever more encrusted.

Auerbach himself has evoked these thick layers of paint as a metaphor for his early artistic education. Speaking to John Tusa in a BBC interview in 2001, he said, ‘though nobody else may be aware of it, I am aware of the amount of painting experience that’s buried under those heavy lumps of black and white and ochre.’ Indeed, the flashes of saturated colour and the linear, rigorously structural brushstrokes in Building Site near St Paul's: Winter betray an outline of his future practice. Made at a formative moment in his career, this painting is an early indication of the energy and muscularity that would characterise Auerbach's subsequent output.