Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931) Birth, Marriage, Death 1951
Lot 7AR TP
Frank Auerbach
(British, born 1931)
Birth, Marriage, Death
1951
Sold for £ 150,000 (US$ 199,271) inc. premium

Lot Details
Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931)
Birth, Marriage, Death
1951

signed and dated 1951
oil on panel laid on board

122 by 183 cm.
48 1/16 by 72 1/16 in.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Private Collection, UK (acquired directly from the artist circa 1951)
    Thence by descent to the present owner

    Literature
    Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 30, no. 3, illustrated in black and white
    William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 236, no. 7, illustrated in colour
    Cate Haste, Sheila Fell: A Passion for Paint, Farnham 2010, p. 45, no. 30, illustrated in colour



    In 1951, Frank Auerbach was at the very beginning of what has proved to be a long and successful artistic career. A rare survival from this early period, this remarkable painting entitled Birth, Marriage, Death has remained in the same private collection since its completion and is the largest early work by Auerbach to ever come to market. Coming on view for the first time in over 65 years it provides us with an enlightening insight into this formative time. Originally a refugee from Germany, Auerbach had spent eight years at boarding school in Kent before arriving in London in 1947. It was here that he began to study art, taking up classes under David Bomberg at the Borough Polytechnic Institute the following year. During these lessons, Auerbach learned how to experiment and take risks: "In those classes there was an atmosphere of radicalism and research which was extremely stimulating" (the artist in: Catherine Lampert, 'A Conversation with Frank Auerbach' in Frank Auerbach, London 1978, p. 20). In 1948 he was also accepted at the St Martin's School of Art, where he became good friends with fellow painter Leon Kossoff. Still a man of few words today, Auerbach describes himself as having been a rather quiet, introverted student, preferring to communicate through his work. Over the next few years he continued to hone his artistic style, making regular visits to the National Gallery in London whilst also taking inspiration from the spirited and provocative Bomberg, whose classes Auerbach was to continue to take until the mid-1950s.

    Painted onto one panel, but effectively split into three separate images, Birth, Marriage, Death records what might be considered the great moments in human life. Its subject matter is timeless, and the three events are represented in a suitably opaque manner, the figures involved showing no distinctive features, existing in no particular time period. There is an intentional disconnect, almost voyeurism, between the figures and the viewer that instils a haunting and enthralling sense of curiosity to the work that remains present throughout his oeuvre. Whilst abstract, it remains figurative and evocative of personal life experiences, his interest in the human form here would continue throughout his life and was the central tenant to the School of London to which he was an integral participant. The artist's masterful understanding of paint is already clear, as is his use of colour and tone to develop a sense of depth. In his handling of the medium, comparisons could be made with Auerbach's portrait of his friend Leon Kossoff, now held in the Tate Gallery, London, which also dates from 1951. As well as being an accomplished work of art in its own right, this painting has a significant art-historical importance. Together with the other works by Auerbach offered here (Reclining Model, Back View, 1960-1961 and Reclining Head of E.O.W. II, 1969), Birth, Marriage, Death of 1951 offers a fascinating survey of the artist's early career allowing one to understand more fully the evolution of Auerbach's remarkable style, a style which has come to epitomise the late Twentieth Century rebirth of figurative painting.
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