The display of Auerbach drawings in the Gallery’s Espresso Bar is a selection from the hundreds he has made over many years from paintings in the National Gallery, always in front of the originals. They are, in a sense, the tools of his trade. Until the time of his National Gallery exhibition in 1995, he was still visiting two or three times a week to draw. But this practice has since lessened, partly because the focus of the 1995 show encouraged him to involve himself more deeply in his own subject matter, although this does not imply any lessening of his appreciation of the past.
The artist would take the drawings to his studio and pin them to the wall where they could act as a catalyst in the making of his own paintings. Reasons for choosing particular paintings are not to do with any superficial compositional likeness, as he acknowledges: ‘I’ve drawn landscapes to help me with a portrait head and I’ve drawn from portraits to help me with a landscape…it’s not that if I’m painting a landscape, I’m looking for a landscape to help me with the painting. I remember doing a painting of Primrose Hill where the weight of the composition was at the top…there were some overhanging branches or something at the top of the picture. ..I finished up drawing that picture where the person is tumbling out of the sky (Veronese, ‘The Consecration of Saint Nicholas’) that is, a figure painting to help me with a landscape.
Auerbach uses the National Gallery paintings as part of his working process and as a reminder of the standards at which to aim. ‘Without these touchstones we’d be floundering’ he has said.