1931 Born in Berlin
1939 Arrived in England
1948-52 Studied at St Martin’s School of Art, London
1952-55 Studied at the Royal College of Art, London
2007 Lives and works in London
Auerbach was born in Berlin, the son of Max Auerbach, a patent lawyer, and Charlotte Nora Borchardt, who had trained as an artist. Under the influence of the British writer Iris Origo, his parents sent him to Britain in 1939 under the Kindertransport scheme (although he has stated it was by private arrangement), which brought almost 10,000 mainly Jewish children to Britain to escape from Nazi persecution. Aged seven, Auerbach left Germany via Hamburg on 4 April 1939 and arrived at Southampton on 7 April. Left behind in Germany, Auerbach’s parents died in a concentration camp in 1942.
In Britain, Auerbach became a pupil at Bunce Court School, near Faversham in Kent, where he excelled in not only art but also drama classes. Indeed, he almost became an actor, even taking a small role in Peter Ustinov’s play House of Regrets at the Unity Theatre in St Pancras, at the age of 17. But his interest in art proved a stronger draw and he began studying in London, first at St Martin’s School of Art from 1948 to 1952, and at the Royal College of Art from 1952 to 1955. Yet, perhaps the clearest influence on his art training came from a series of additional art classes he took at London’s Borough Polytechnic, where he and fellow St Martin’s student Leon Kossoff were taught by David Bomberg from 1947 until 1953.
From 1955, he began teaching in secondary schools, but quickly moved into the visiting tutor circuit at numerous art schools, including Ravensbourne, Ealing, Sidcup and the Slade School of Art. However, he was most frequently to be found teaching at Camberwell School of Art, where he taught from 1958 to 1965.
Auerbach’s first solo exhibition was at the Beaux Arts Gallery in London in 1956, followed by further solo shows at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1959, 1961, 1962 and 1963, and then at Marlborough Fine Art in London at regular intervals after 1965; at Marlborough Gallery, New York, in 1969, 1982, 1994, 1998 and 2006; and at Marlborough Graphics in 1990.
In 1978, he was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London, and in 1986 he represented Britain in the Venice Biennale, sharing the biennale’s main prize, the Golden Lion, with Sigmar Polke. Further exhibitions have included Eight Figurative Painters, held at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, USA, in 1981, alongside Michael Andrews, Francis Bacon, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Patrick George, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow; and a retrospective at the Kunstverein, Hamburg, in 1986, comprising paintings and drawings made between 1977 and 1985 originally shown at the 42nd Venice Biennale, also in 1986. This show then toured, with some additional works, to the Museum Folkwang, Essen, and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, in 1987.
Exhibitions were also held at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, in 1989; the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, in 1991; and the National Gallery, London, in 1995. He was included in the exhibition A New Spirit in Painting at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1981 and a solo exhibition of his paintings and drawings 1954 to 2001 was held there in 2001; and held a solo show entitled Frank Auerbach Etchings and Drypoints 1954–2006 at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, which toured to the Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, during 2007–08; and another solo show at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, in 2009.
Auerbach was the subject of a television film entitled Frank Auerbach: To the Studio (2001), directed by Hannah Rothschild and produced by Jake Auerbach (Jake Auerbach Films Ltd). This was first broadcast on the arts programme Omnibus on 10 November 2001.
David Bowie bought and owned Auerbach’s “Head of Gerda Boehm” as part of his private collection. After Bowie’s death in 2016, this piece was among many put up for auction in November 2016, where it was sold for £3.8 million (US$4.7 million).
London’s Tate Britain, in association with the Kunstmuseum Bonn, organized a major retrospective of Auerbach’s work in 2015 and 2016. The exhibit was curated by Catherine Lampert together with the artist.