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Guest post by Jeremy Simmonds

For the first time in several years, a remarkable collection of German-British artist Frank Auerbach’s evocative charcoal portraits is available to view in exhibition, courtesy of The Courtauld Gallery (Somerset House, WC2) between February and May 2024.

Heads of Gerda Boehm,Private collection© the artist, courtesy of Frankie Rossi Art Projects,London

To the uninitiated, Auerbach’s work might appear superficially harsh, almost brutal in its execution: the reality, however, is that this artist manages to extract something fascinatingly primal from his subjects. This is particularly true of family associate Gerda Boehm, of whom Auerbach created portraits for almost two decades, his studies nevertheless showing a sensitive observation of the ageing process.

Charcoal portrait of a man
Frank Auerbach Self-Portrait, 1958, Charcoal and chalk on paper. Private Collection © the artist, courtesy of Frankie Rossi Art Projects, London

Arguably the calmest portrait on display – perhaps the most flattering, should one choose to view it so – is Auerbach’s arresting but comparatively-relaxed self-portrait. This study superficially suggests an artist at ease with his own company, almost as though contemplating as to why he might represent other subjects with such apparently aggressive stroke: closer inspection however, exposes a break in calm, a fragmentation that discloses the artist’s innate fragility.

Two women sitting on a bench looking at paintings on a wall opposite them
Frank Auerbach The Charcoal Heads at The Courtauld Gallery. Photo credit Fergus Carmichael

Like that of his contemporaries, Freud and Bacon, Frank Auerbach’s work pleads to be seen in the flesh – a flesh broken and reassembled in a manner perhaps exploring how we might all reveal ourselves beneath our ordinary exteriors.



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