Thick Brushstrokes of Life

Auerbach Getty images
Frank Auerbach in his studio.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Frank Auerbach defined his role as an artist as imposing order upon the chaos of the world by recording this in his paintings.

  • Facts


    • The exhibit runs through September 13 at the Bonn Museum of Modern Art (Kunstmuseum Bonn).
    • As a boy, the artist was sent from Germany to live in England. His Jewish parents later died in a concentration camp.
    • Mr. Auerbach’s portraits are especially known for the thick layers of oil paints that he applies.
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The frames can barely contain the portraits and cityscapes. Flickering reds, luminous blues and greens catch the light as though the paint were still fresh on the canvases and could take a new shape at any moment.

Many visitors to a new exhibit in Bonn, however, know little or nothing about the Berlin-born artist who created them. That is now about to change.

At 84, Frank Auerbach is known one of England’s greatest living artists but his paintings are seldom seen in his native Germany. Now, people can enjoy them in abundance at a major retrospective in Bonn.

Mr. Auerbach is already well-known in England, where he moved as a boy to escape the Nazis and later became a naturalized citizen. Today, he enjoys the same regard and fame as his two friends and fellow “School of London” artists Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.

Mr. Auerbach still receives women and men for portraits in his studio; his subjects have not changed for decades. Mr. Auerbach is not a psychologist and there is nothing in his portraits that reveals anything about his sitters – no clear contours, no truths to expose.

That’s not what interests Mr. Auerbach, who prefers to paint images full of twisting energy, painted with broad strokes and thick layers of viscous oils. Mr. Auerbach looks at the world and the world changes. Its ability to change is his art.

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