Freud's Auerbachs go on display

August 27 2014

Image of Freud's Auerbachs go on display

Picture: Arts Council

I mentioned earlier in May that the UK's national collection had acquired (through the Arts Council's Acceptance in Lieu scheme) Lucian Freud's collection of paintings by his friend, Frank Auerbach. Now, they've gone on display at Tate Britain where, says Jonathan Jones in The Guardian, they should remain:

It should all go to Tate Britain, permanently. There's no point in scattering the Freud collection of Auerbach's art around museums in Manchester and Southampton and so forth. For one thing, Auerbach is an outstanding British artist whose reputation really needs securing for the ages – and only the Tate has the global power to do that. Its retrospective of his work next year ought to be a real event.

To be blunt, all too many paintings by the best British artists hang outside London where they don't get the publicity they deserve. The best place in the world to see Auerbach's paintings is in the city where he lives and works. No wonder that in the 1980s Auerbach was often spoken of, along with such artists as Freud, Leon Kossoff and RB Kitaj as belonging to a "School of London". He has literally dug himself into the city and its landscapes. London skies and London spaces energise his mighty, roiling expressionist art.

London is truly a very different kind of art city from Paris or New York. It is – in paintings – tougher and darker. Modern London's art history starts with William Hogarth, who in the Georgian age dwelt on mad houses and gambling dens, brothels and workhouses. Hogarth's London is a practically subterranean place, a cavern peopled by no-hopers. He is an artist who paints the dangers and the victims of city life. Auerbach is one of his true heirs.

I can see the case for keeping the collection together. But if the pictures (there are 15 oils and 29 works on paper) did all go to Tate Britain, I think pressures of space mean we can be sure they wouldn't all remain on display together at all times, or even some of the time. In which case, the point of keeping the collection intact loses much of its argument. I'd rather see the collection dispersed across the UK, if it meant keeping more of the pictures on permanent display.

Update - a reader writes:

For what it's worth I agree with you about the Auerbachs. The Tate already has 77 works by him (roughly 17 major oils, the remainder being works on paper or smaller oil sketches) so that is pretty good representation. The works in the Freud colllection include 15 oils, the rest being works on paper, sketches etc. It therefore makes sense for the Tate to get at most a couple of major oils that fill any gaps in its collection with the rest being spread around the country to regional museums that could never afford to purchase such works.

Update II - another reader adds:

all I can say is that it amazes me that newspaper critics in London still do not appreciate that many of us who live elsewhere do actually like and appreciate art. Art is not a sole activity for Londoners and those who visit that city and travel around the UK is really not that difficult. Is it they would rather the works be locked away in Tate storage than allow them to be seen by the ignorant peasants living outside the capital?  

Also one major advantage of placing art in galleries outside London is that you do not have to fight through a major scrum every time to get anywhere near them as you always have to in London.

Update III - but another reader points out that Tate might well lend them to other galleries:

It's worth remembering that Tate is very keen on loaning it's works to other galleries. It is the custodian, with the National Gallery of Scotland, of Anthony D'Offay's 'Artist Rooms' which are on show throughout the UK. So if it doesn't have space to show all the Auerbachs they will be available for loan.

Another reader wonders about the display element of any Tate arrangement:

[...] keeping the Auerbachs together implies that the Tate will display them all which is unlikely.

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