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You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeeCatalogues - Main Introduction Harvey-LeeArnold Auerbach


Arnold Auerbach; A Centenary Tribute. A Catalogue by Elizabeth harvey-LeeA Centenary Tribute
to a Sculptor’s Graphic Art

The Life and Work
of Arnold Auerbach

Auerbach is an interesting, if little-known, artist of the Modern British school. He made several outstanding pieces in the 1920’s and 30’s which show his participation in the dialogue with international Modernism which preoccupied the English avant-garde in the period between the two world wars.

Born in Liverpool, April 2, 1898, Auerbach was the son of a tradesman, Jonas Auerbach and wife Eva, née Levy. Auerbach’s grandfather, Salomon, had emigrated from Poland.

As a boy Auerbach attended evening classes at the Liverpool Institute, before taking up full-time study at the Liverpool School of Art, where he was awarded a pupil teachership. At Liverpool he received the good grounding in drawing which was the basis of all British art college education of the period. Drawing, he was to write later, was the link, the common factor, between painting and sculpture. Relief sculpture in particular he regarded as three-dimensional drawing. Yet the sculptor’s draughtsmanship, like that of artists trained as architects, is generally marked by a distinct quality and character that distinguishes it from a painter’s hand.

Invalided out of the army in 1918, having been drafted at the age of eighteen in 1916, Auerbach returned initially to Liverpool where he worked with the architect James Bramwell, carrying out the interior designs of new buildings with both relief sculpture and mural decoration. Through the inter-War years sculpture was to be Auerbach’s main pre-occupation.

He first exhibited in 1919, at the Maddox Street Gallery in Liverpool and from 1921 he contributed to the annual Autumn ‘salons’ at the city’s Walker Art Gallery.

In 1921 Auerbach moved to London where he shared a studio with the painter Robert Arthur Wilson, and exhibited work at the noted Chenil Gallery. Later in the same year he made his first visit to the Continent, travelling through France and Austria en route to Switzerland. In Paris he was particularly impressed by the contemporary sculpture of Maillol, Archipenko, Laurens, Lipchitz and Zadkine, though it was a few years before this interest was reflected in his work.

He celebrated his return to London and artistic ‘coming of age’ in a fine finished pencil self-portrait (illustrated on the front cover) very much in the tradition of the late Italian Quattrocento, recalling portraits by Piero della Francesca and Giovanni Bellini. Northern European old master painters such as Dürer and Rembrandt had similarly portrayed themselves as a record of different stages of their careers. Auerbach’s Self-Portrait at the age of twenty-four is the summation of his student days; an avowal of his powers as a draughtsman and an anticipation of the art world opening before him. He took a studio in Adelaide Road in Hampstead and within a couple of years showed for the first time at the Royal Academy, in 1923.

Through the 1920’s Auerbach was commissioned as an architectural sculptor to decorate the interiors of several Art-Deco buildings. Little of this work survives, for instance The News Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, which he ornamented with a relief tryptich of standing female nudes with pleated drapes, was destroyed in World War II, though he kept the original plasters in his studio till his death, and made a related etching. A major commission in 1927 was for the reliefs for the palace of the Nawab of Rampur in India.

By the mid-1920’s Auerbach’s sculpture and drawings reflected an awareness of Ancient Egyptian stance, simplification and monumentality of form. In the later 20’s and the early 1930’s he experimented with the broken planes, angularity and semi-abstract patterning of cubism.

During the Second World War Auerbach took up his first teaching post, at Beckenham Art School, replacing Henry Carr who had been appointed a War Artist. After the War he was invited to join the staff of the Regent Street Polytechnic, first in the School of Architecture, later in the School of Art where he taught still life and portrait painting. Subsequently he was at Chelsea School of Art, until his retirement in 1964. Afterwards he continued to teach at the Stanhope Institute until 1968.

Ill health had forced Auerbach to give up making sculpture in the mid-1950’s and concentrate on the less physically demanding medium of painting.

After World War II Auerbach had, in common with many artists, returned to naturalism. A series of etchings from 1949 is obviously made directly from the model in lifeclass. Several models recur in various plates in different or repeated poses. Teaching in art schools gave easy daily access to life classes.

In his book Sculpture, a History in Brief, written in 1952, Auerbach discusses abstraction and realism in general but thereby gives an insight into his own attitudes and approach.

If the artist chooses abstract forms to take the impress of his feelings it is because, in so far as the forms become more generalised, so much the less will they tend to resemble particular things in the natural world. The less therefore they will be likely to convey precise intellectual information, and will the better respond to shades of pure feeling… But we are entitled, also, to ask whether these abstract shapes are really capable of carrying such a weight and variety of meaning, or responding with sufficient flexibility to … complex feelings. Moreover, so enormous is the variety of forms in nature, and so consistently in front of our eyes, that it is almost difficult to avoid making a shape which is not in some degree reminiscent or suggestive of living forms…

Yet in reality, and in spite of the existence of a natural tendency towards either realism or abstraction, with extremes at either end, the supposed opposition of abstract or geometric shapes and naturalistic ones is based on a misunderstanding of the fundamental nature of art. Whether…made in the likeness of anything else outside itself or not, that descriptive likeness is never its essential…quality. The quality which is its irreducible quality resides in its own physical shape and the feelings which may be aroused by the sort of order that shapes establishes. For that order, that physical relationship of the masses, the planes, the lines – its form – is the representative spirit of its maker.

This sketch has been written with hardly any direct mention of ‘beauty’, the one quality which it has always been the special business of art to produce. For beauty comes perhaps better veiled. The beauty of sculpture resides not in what it records, though it may well record beauty too, but in some fine shaping of the material, so that the spirit enters into its form. Where there is sculptural form there is beauty, for the mark of life is on it.

Arnold Auerbach; A Centenary Tribute. A Catalogue by Elizabeth harvey-LeeThe Etchings

Auerbach took up etching in the early 1920’s during the Etching ‘Boom’ and produced plates intermittently through the 20’s and early 1930’s. The images are sometimes entirely original though more frequently related to his contemporary drawings, paintings or sculpture. They include London and Liverpool street scenes, and studies of heads and figures. The earliest plates are tonal and more often in drypoint, which he could work directly into the plate without ground or need for acid. After 1926 there is a greater emphasis on line and the drawing is more schematic. Animals and female nudes take the stage.

From 1928/9 to about 1934/35 Auerbach produced several interesting cubistic designs, quite outside the canons of traditional Modern British etching. In general, period impressions from these plates are no longer available. In 1987 I printed editions of 2 to 5 proofs only from nine plates before selling the plates. Specially for this centenary exhibition Jeff Clarke ARE has kindly printed small editions from two further plates, and reprinted the two plates from which only 2 proofs had been taken in 1987.

After 1935 there is a hiatus of more than a decade in Auerbach’s etching output, during which he would seem to have reassessed his relationship to Modernism.

Ironically, when he resumed etching after the War, in the late 1940’s, the market for black and white etchings had collapsed, yet the following decade saw his greatest activity in the medium. At a period when ill health forced him to abandon the greater physical rigours of large scale sculpture, etching allowed him to continue to explore the form of the human figure now denied to him in sculpture. His later paintings, by contrast, were predominantly studio still lives. The latest dated etching of which I am aware is from 1960.

The later plates are numerous and were either drawn directly from the model or are based on Auerbach’s drawings, paintings and even sculpture, sometimes from earlier decades. The human figure predominates. The later plates are more typically etched, rather than the drypoint of the pre-War plates, Often he used a double pointed stylus which gives the effect of a broad freely-drawn line searching out the form in a coming to terms with a two-dimensional expression of shapes he felt in the round.

Auerbach probably never owned his own press but either used commercial plate printers or the facilities of the art colleges where he taught. Several of the impressions left in his studio were pattern proofs for the printer.

Auerbach married late, only in 1954, to a charming Scots lady, Jean Campbell, whom he had first met towards the end of the War. Jean was also a professional artist, trained at the Glasgow School of Art, who worked for many years as an artist with the Admiralty. Now aged ninety-two (in 1998) it is due to her generosity that this exhibition is possible, as the previous posthumous exhibition of Auerbach’s sculpture. Arnold’s sculpture was celebrated in an elegant catalogue by René Reichard of the Galerie Huber und Reichard in Offenbach am Main. This brief tribute to Arnold Auerbach as a graphic artist is dedicated to Jean.

A5 (210 x 148.5 mm) ; 32 pages, with 34 illustrations of which 3 are in colour. An exhibition catalogue of 41 items, and a checklist of 142 etching plates, all that remained in the artist’s studio on his death.

(UK price: £5, International orders: £8)


Some Examples of Auerbach's Work

Arnold Auerbach. Two Birds, c1930. Plaster cast en-patinated to imitate bronze.

Two Birds
Plaster cast, c1930
en-patinated to imitate bronze. (660 mm high)

Auerbach wrote a manual on the painting of plaster to simulate bronze patina, an economical alternative to casting in bronze.













Kneeling and standing Nudes
Pencil and black, green, sanguine and turquoise pastel drawing (though only illustrated in black and white)
c1925-29. On wove paper.
(623 x 381 mm) Time-stained.

The turquoise pastel surrounding the figures has a frottage wooden grain, the emphasis on the curve of the right thigh in the smaller ‘Egyptian Ubshabti’ – type figure is developed in later drawings and etchings.














Arnold Auerbach. Nude, with one arm raised behind her head, 1934.

Nude, with one arm raised behind her head
Both the pencil, ink and body colours drawing,
1934 (483 x 242mm)
And the related, smaller drypoint,