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How to make friends and influence people

The Ben Uri Gallery’s current exhibition focuses on the enduring friendship of artists united by their roots

10 October, 2019 — By Sarah MacDougall

Frank Auerbach’s Head of Helen Gillespie, c 1962-64. Image: Frank Auerbach, Marlborough Fine Art

THE exhibition Friends and Influences at Ben Uri brings together paintings, drawings, etchings and lithographs by a selected group of artists, united by ties of Jewish-immigrant descent, training, teaching and/or exhibiting platforms, as well as by mutual and enduring friendships.

The ground floor gallery focuses on selected so-called “School of London” artists: Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud, RB Kitaj (who coined this controversial term) and the late Leon Kossoff.

Auerbach’s lithograph of Kossoff opens a display of portraits from a restricted circle of close sitters, among them Freud’s etching of his lawyer and “fixer” Lord Goodman and Auerbach’s layered oil of sitter Helen Gillespie; Kitaj’s self-portrait etching is shown alongside a portrait by his second wife, Sandra Fisher.

A particular highlight is Kossoff’s superb Study for Copy of Cephalus and Aurora by Poussin No 2 (1976, Swindon Museum & Art Gallery), representing his enduring engagement with the Old Masters, in general, and Poussin, in particular.

A trio of reclining female nudes, all works on paper, by Auerbach, Freud and Kossoff, spanning some 50 years, also demonstrate how these outstanding artists effectively reinvigorated the post-war British figurative tradition.

In the lower galleries their relationship to – and engagement with – artists of an older generation is explored through juxtaposed landscapes of London and Jerusalem by David Bomberg, who taught Auerbach and Kossoff at the Borough Polytechnic, and London scenes by Auerbach and Kossoff, ranging from Mornington Crescent and Primrose Hill Park to Kilburn tube station and Spitalfields.

A work each by Chagall and Soutine, and their portraits from memory by Marevna, nods to the influence of the School of Paris; and one representative etching apiece by Dürer and Rembrandt, helps trace a profound line of descent from the Old Masters to the new.

Sarah MacDougall is Head of BURU and Ben Uri Collection
• Friends and Influences is at Ben Uri Gallery until October 18. Open Monday-Friday, 10am-5.30pm and 8pm Wednesday. Free entry. 108a Boundary Road, off Abbey Road St John’s Wood, NW8 0RH, 020 7604 3991, www.benuri.org.uk

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