Painted in 2012, David Landau Seated by Frank Auerbach presents a compelling rumination on human presence, which encapsulates a sense of intimacy and close friendship. David Landau, the art historian and arts patron, first met Frank Auerbach in 1983. Although Landau began to sit for Auerbach shortly after, the artist did not complete Landau’s first portrait until 1985. Since then, Auerbach has executed over 45 portraits of Landau, who remains one of only five sitters the artist is regularly working with.
Reflecting upon the artist, Landau remarked, ‘I thought – and still think – he is our greatest living painter… Each [portrait he has made] draws me back to the time it was painted. He is a tremendous friend: the only person, apart from my wife, who I’ve seen so consistently for so long. He has shown me how art is produced: how hard it is to achieve greatness, and how exciting it is to be there when, after 10 or 12 months, a painting is finally finished. It’s a magic moment – like witnessing a birth’ (D. Landau quoted in L. Bennett, ‘Sitting for Frank Auerbach: 'It's rather like being at the dentist’, The Guardian, 30 September 2015).
In the present work, broad, idiosyncratic brushstrokes configure into a convincing likeness, revealing the unwavering intentionality of Auerbach’s working process. Paint is pushed and pulled across the canvas with a vigour and animation to embody the subject with a remarkable existential nuance. Rendered in a light palette, the figure emerges out of the veils of the vivid background, conjuring a discreet meditative quality. As the artist explained in conversation with the curator Catherine Lampert, ‘One recognizes an individual likeness by the deviation from the norm. The deeper the portraiture, the deeper the deviation.' (Frank Auerbach, quoted in Catherine Lampert, Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting, Thames & Hudson, London, 2015, p.199).