Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Frank Auerbach at Leeds

At the end of Queen Victoria's reign  Maple &Co. was known as  "The Largest Furnishing Establishment in the World".  It was a byword for quality, and its store occupied an entire block on the corner of Euston and Tottenham Court Road, until it was destroyed in the Blitz of 1941.  Auerbach captures it at a point when the site is being cleared for the new Maples store,  part of the postwar
rebuilding of London. 

Maples Demolition site, 1960 
Leeds City Art Gallery   © Frank Auerbach

When I saw this painting, nearly five foot square, in Leeds City Art Gallery I was bowled over.  Here is a historic view of a famous London store being created, as if it were painted with the very mud from its construction.  Ever since I have loved the energy of Auerbach's work,  and the sense of the thickly applied paint as a living representation of the subject.

You need to stand a really long way back from this artist's paintings - sometimes even at the exit to the room where one hangs -- before it takes shape and resolves itself.  I was once nearly disappointed in this way, but luckily turned back as I left the gallery for a final look, and the abstract mass of  brush strokes fell wonderfully into into place.  

Leeds City Art Gallery is always worth a visit, with many stars in its collections, but I have a soft spot for this unassuming little Victorian painting, tucked away in a corner.  

A Snow Storm     William Ed. Stott 1859-1918

You can recognise the Yorkshire winter weather, where the snow clouds suddenly let fall great drifts of snowflakes, ankle deep in moments, and perhaps the ponies epitomise Yorkshire grit in hard conditions?  The painting was the gift of the Ladies' Council of Education in 1892, and I like to imagine the discussion which resulted in its selection - there is nothing in it which could offend or startle the visitors;  a very safe committee choice.

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