Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931) Looking Towards Mornington Crescent Station 122 x 122 cm. (48 x 48 in.)
Lot 95AR
Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931) Looking Towards Mornington Crescent Station 122 x 122 cm. (48 x 48 in.)
Sold for £1,050,400 (US$ 1,685,940) inc. premium

Lot Details
Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931) Looking Towards Mornington Crescent Station 122 x 122 cm. (48 x 48 in.)
Property from an Important Private U.K. Collection
Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931)
Looking Towards Mornington Crescent Station
inscribed and dated 'LOOKING TOWARDS MORNINGTON/CRESCENT STATION/1972-1974' (verso)
oil on board
122 x 122 cm. (48 x 48 in.)

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE:
    With Marlborough Fine Art, London
    With Browse & Darby, London, 24th August 1978, where purchased by the present owner

    EXHIBITED:
    London, Marlborough Fine Art, Frank Auerbach Recent Work, 18 April - 15 May 1974, cat.no.29 (col.ill)
    London, Royal Academy of Arts, British Painting 1952-1977, 24 September -20 November 1977, cat.no.21 (where lent by Browse & Darby)
    London, Hayward Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain, Frank Auerbach, 4 May - 2 July 1978, cat.no.109 (where lent by Browse & Darby); this exhibition travelled to Edinburgh, Fruit Market Gallery, 15 July - 12 August 1978

    LITERATURE:
    William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, Rizzoli, New York, 2009, no.326, p.275 (col.ill)
    The Royal Academy of Arts, British Painting 1952-1977, The Hillingdon Press, Uxbridge, 1977, cat.no.21 (not illustrated)

    The Carreras Factory, which was constructed for the manufacture of cigarettes for the Carreras Tobacco Company in 1926 at Mornington Crescent, north London, was the first building close to his Camden Town studio which Auerbach documented in oil paint. The splendid edifice, which is arguably the best known art deco building in London, has a predominantly white façade which would have appealed to the artist's favoured palette during this time. In Carreras Factory at Mornington Crescent (see fig.1, Private Collection), painted in 1961, we see Auerbach deploying colours of grey, white and black which permeate his portrait and nude works of the same year. Prior to this wintry looking painting he had travelled slightly farther afield in London, to places such as Oxford Street, the Shell Building on the South Bank, St Paul's and Leicester Square, in search of building sites which formed the basis of his non-figurative early output. But from the mid 1960s he remained much closer to home, with landscapes of Primrose Hill being about as distant as he would travel in search of his next project. It was this urban landscape which inspired some of the artist's most imaginative and powerful work over the next decade. More often executed on an epic scale compared to his portrait work, Auerbach's devotion to Mornington Crescent has been explained by the artist himself:

    'I haven't painted [Mornington Crescent] to ally myself with some Camden Town Group, but simply because I feel London is this raw thing...This extraordinary, marvellously unpainted city where whenever somebody tries to get something going they stop halfway through, and next to it something incongruous occurs...this higgledy-piggledy mess of a city.' (Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, Thames & Hudson, London, 1990, p.162)

    By 1972, the year the present work was begun, Auerbach had completed some dozen oil paintings which record Mornington Crescent and thus was well briefed on the multitudinous angles and perspectives which were on offer to him. This perhaps explains the measured and thoughtful composition which Looking Towards Mornington Crescent Station presents to the viewer. By the time the artist had started to tackle this painting he had already, in similar sized oils (always on board), worked through the complexities and difficulties which manifest themselves in a claustrophobic urban setting. There is the strong sense of the diagonal from the lower left corner to the upper right which contains the main body of colour in the work; a stunning variety upon close inspection of green, red, orange and violet. This cuts through the composition and separates the steely blue-grey sky from the lemon yellow foreground, all of which, when brought together, forms a powerful sense of depth and perspective. At no stage had the artist forgotten the lessons he learnt on the building sites he explored in the 1950s and, even before this, the tutoring of his mentor David Bomberg whilst at the London Borough Polytechnic. In the latter's work, such as View of Jerusalem from 1925 (see fig.2, Private Collection) the influence between teacher and pupil is most evident when comparing the rigid grid-like structure of the Jerusalem roof-tops, built up with strong diagonals, with the purposefulness of the long liquid-like strokes of orange and violet in the present lot. And it is these very broad lines which intersect one another, always with their edges of raised paint creating a sense of the relief, that remind the viewer of the building sites with their scaffolding which Auerbach observed and studied some ten years previous:

    'The cityscapes are also construction sites. The structures they describe seem spiky, provisional. They are more like scaffolding than finished buildings, partly because some redevelopment was going on around Mornington Crescent in the mid-to-late 60s, but largely because of style: Auerbach's love of linear structure embedded in thick substance.' (Loc.Cit.).

    It would appear that during the first half of the 1970s Auerbach was working on four different paintings of Mornington Crescent Station, all begun in 1972. However, Looking Towards Mornington Crescent Station is the only one of the quartet set in the daytime; the others having the word Night at the end of their titles. Two of these reside in public collections, in Australia at the Art Gallery of Western Australia and in the United Kingdom at Graves Gallery, Sheffield (see fig.3). These paintings are reminiscent of Van Gogh's night time café scenes with their starry skies and twinkling lights. In contrast, the present oil is illuminated by natural light, from the sky in the top left corner, which filters through and seeps into all segments of the board. However, all four works have been executed from the same viewpoint, confirming the artist's commitment to a scene, with the traffic sign or signal on its tall, thin support appearing in the foreground of all four works on the right hand side and in various colours.

    The paintings of course were not worked en plein air, this would have meant the artist was sitting or standing for many hours at a time on crowded streets as they were built up over prolonged periods. Instead, he would make numerous sketches at the scene usually in crayon or felt pen, much like the four works on paper proceeding this lot, which would act as the start point for a major project back in his studio. These large landscapes especially, were works of immense physical as well as mental struggle. Auerbach has commented, 'the way I work means putting up a whole image, and dismantling it and putting up another whole image, which is...physically extremely strenuous, and I don't think I've ever finished a landscape without a six or seven hour bout of work.' (Op.Cit., p.171).

    Never having previously appeared at auction, Looking Towards Mornington Crescent Station has not been seen in public since it was exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in 1978. It is the last time Mornington Crescent is named in Auerbach's painting until the late 1980s. This hiatus is broken in 1987 when the motif resurfaces and becomes a regular feature of the artist's oeuvre through to the present day.
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