Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Auction May 16, 2019 totalled $341.8 Million. Included in this was the sale of Frank Auerbach's Head of Julia, 1985, part of The Gerald L. Lennard Foundation Collection. Head of Julia sold for $1,820,000, well over its estimate of 600-800,000. Other outstanding pieces included a Mark Rothko masterwork and two paintings by Francis Bacon.
Auerbach painted his first view of north London in 1954 (Primrose Hill) and this particular area of the capital would go on to occupy a central position in his oeuvre. As the title suggests, the present work takes the iconic Camden Palace Theatre as its subject. In 1965 Auerbach left the relative calm of Primrose Hill for the chaotic hustle and bustle of Mornington Crescent station. He continued to concentrate on this location and as of 2009 when his catalogue raisonne was compiled he had painted 57 depictions of Mornington Crescent, making it his most frequently occurring landscape subject. In 1976, Auerbach embarked on his first paintings of the theatre, completing a series of four thickly painted oils which are saturated with bold hues of red and yellow, used to describe the frenetic energy that surrounds the theatre which is located on a busy intersection opposite the underground station. This vibrancy remains 25 years later in the present painting which combines a wonderfully varied colour palette of mauves, pinks and browns, interspersed with areas of muddy green and yellow and zig-zags and stripes of black, all united against a muted cyan blue sky.
The spontaneity implied in these quick, thick brushstrokes belies the strong sense of structure and pattern which underpins all of Auerbach's painting. Auerbach's London is in a constant state of flux, providing the artist with a complex and ever-changing system of signs. In order to attempt to translate the mutable nature of this subject one must engage with an intense process of 'seeing' and all of Auerbach's paintings grow out of a rigorous commitment to the drawing process. Auerbach draws every morning, often creating hundreds of drawings in his pursuit of a subject and using these to 'suggest how the whole painting could be organized.'
Auerbach's urban landscapes respond to the undisciplined reality of life in London and as Catherine Lampert acknowledges, 'Cumulatively they constitute a half a century of readings, a kind of weathervane, a suggestion of time-travel.'