Born in Berlin in 1931 to an assimilated Jewish family, Frank Auerbach was sent to England for his own safety in 1939 and never saw his parents again. He attended Bunce Court, a co-educational boarding school at Lenham, near Faversham, Kent (relocated to Shropshire from 1940–45), founded by Anna Essinger, a German-Jewish educator influenced by Quaker principles, and staffed mainly by German-speaking refugees. It was here that he first exhibited his talent for drawing.
Afterwards, Auerbach settled in London and on the recommendation of the artist Archibald Ziegler (one-time chairman of the Ben Uri Arts Committee, whose wife had taught at Bunce Court) enrolled at St. Martin’s School of Art (1948–52), where he met Leon Kossoff. Both joined the radical and ‘exceptionally free’ evening classes held by David Bomberg at the Borough Polytechnic (until 1954) and worked together capturing the devastated cityscape of postwar London. Auerbach also studied at the Royal College of Art, graduating in 1955 with a silver medal and first-class honours. His Standing Female Nude, c.1954, is one of two early art school life drawings (probably using the same model) in the Ben Uri Collection, which were almost certainly carried out at the Royal College and show the beginnings of Auerbach’s distinctive vigorous and heavily worked style.
Auerbach had his first exhibition with Helen Lessore of the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1956, showing in a group show at Ben Uri in 1958, and taught, first at secondary schools, then, until 1968, one day a week at various art colleges, including the Slade. Auerbach has been represented by Marlborough Fine Art since 1965. He was included in 1976 in the group exhibition, The Human Clay, at the Hayward Gallery, organized by R. B. Kitaj, followed two years later by his inaugural retrospective sponsored by the Arts Council. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1986, winning the Golden Lion award jointly with Sigmar Polke. He has since exhibited widely in Europe, the USA and Australia.
Ben Uri holds 11 works by Auerbach including seven etchings of heads of his ‘family’ of familiar sitters ranging in date from 1985–90 and donated by the artist. Ben Uri has exhibited Auerbach’s work in more than a dozen group exhibitions, either at the gallery or as loans, between 1956 and 2015.