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Sotheby's to offer the most exceptional collection of eight paintings by Frank Auerbach of Ruth Bromberg
Frank Auerbach, Ruth Bromberg Seated, 2004. Estimate: £120,000-180,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s announce that its forthcoming Evening Auction of Contemporary Art in London on Tuesday, 26 June, 2012 will present for sale a remarkable group of works by one Britain’s greatest living artists, Frank Auerbach** (b. 1931). The works come from the collection of Joseph and Ruth Bromberg, friends of the artist from the 1990s onwards. Painted over a 17-year period (1992-2008), this exceptional collection of eight portraits of Ruth Bromberg tells the story of this friendship between artist and sitter, and provides a privileged insight into the experience of sitting for this celebrated portrait artist. The group also includes a captivating etching by Lucian Freud of his daughter Bella.

Expected to realize in excess of £1.8 million, the exceptional collection will be sold on behalf of the Executor as a bequest to the UK-registered charity British Friends of the Art Museums of Israel to benefit the Prints and Drawings Department of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, in memory of Ruth and Joseph’s beloved son, Michael, who tragically died in his twenties.

Commenting on the sale of this collection Oliver Barker, Deputy Chairman Sotheby’s Europe and Senior International Specialist in Contemporary Art said: “Sotheby’s sale of eight portraits of Ruth Bromberg by Frank Auerbach will mark the single most important collection of paintings by the artist to appear at auction. The group documents the history of one of Auerbach’s key sitters from her first sitting in 1992 to the very last, in 2008. What makes this group intriguing is that we were able to document these exceptional paintings, which were all acquired from the artist – most of them as gifts – through the correspondence between Frank, Ruth and Joseph, some of which will be illustrated in the catalogue.”

Joseph and Ruth Bromberg
Joseph and Ruth Bromberg met in New York – Joseph was born in Moscow in 1915 and Ruth in Nuremberg in 1921, and they found themselves in New York in the 1940s having fled Nazi-occupied Europe. The couple married in 1942 and their only child Michael was born in the 1950s. Joseph moved the family to Milan as his business grew and they relocated to London in the mid 1970s. Michael tragically died of a brain tumor shortly afterwards.

Dedicated supporters of the “School of London” of artists, Ruth and Joseph Bromberg held an eminent position at the heart of this artistic movement, forging strong friendships with its leading members. Their relationship with Auerbach began in the 1990s when Joseph commissioned a portrait of Ruth. When it was finished Ruth continued to sit for Auerbach becoming, over the years, one of the artist’s regular sitters. United by their joint Jewish émigré heritage, Ruth and Auerbach developed a close working relationship across the easel and formed a friendship.

Sitting for Frank Auerbach
Auerbach endlessly scrutinised and reworked his portraits, thus being his sitter was a slow and occasionally arduous exercise; despite sitting for the artist every Thursday afternoon for nearly two decades, Ruth Bromberg is the subject of just twenty paintings by Auerbach. The extraordinary result however is that the Bromberg collection charts the development - in paint - of the artist’s relationship with the sitter. As his familiarity with his subject grew, so did his ability to see – and to render in paint – the raw truth of their being: “To paint the same head over and over leads you to its unfamiliarity; eventually you get near the truth about it, just as people only blurt out the raw truth in the middle of a family quarrel’ (Auerbach, quoted in R. Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 19).

Ruth Bromberg’s Correspondence with Frank Auerbach
Ever since she began sitting for Auerbach in late 1991, Ruth maintained regular correspondence with Frank Auerbach that would endure until the very end of her life. Their friendship is documented through Ruth’s meticulously preserved collection of letters (which will not be included for sale, but parts of which will be illustrated in the catalogue). Together they narrate the dialogue between an artist and his model, friend and supporter, Ruth Bromberg. As the written communication between the parties attests, there was a mutual respect. This is captured in a letter from Auerbach to Ruth of Christmas 1994: “the greatest present is your constancy as a sitter, and your patience with my slow fumble towards an image” (Frank Auerbach in a letter to Ruth Bromberg, 2nd December 1994). Equally, Ruth valued and truly cherished the privilege of being Auerbach’s subject. Encumbered by her increasingly fragile health, Ruth expresses her deep regret in no longer being able to commit to Auerbach’s prescribed modelling schedule: “I know how important your sitters are to you and I would not wish to be the cause of disruption to your work schedule. I have always taken my sittings very seriously and with your best interests in mind, I am reluctant to take on a commitment that I might not be able to fulfil… My seventeen years as a sitter have been a source of the greatest pleasure and joy throughout. I cherish my hours spent in the studio – my home away from home – and the precious memories of great works accomplished before my eyes. Thursday afternoons will never be the same again and I feel the loss” (Ruth Bromberg in a letter to Frank Auerbach, 20 March 2008).

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

**Sotheby’s currently holds four of the top five record prices achieved for paintings by Frank Auerbach at auction. This includes Head of Helen Gillespie (1963-4) sold at Sotheby’s London in July 2008 for £1,945,250 – still the highest price ever achieved for the painter at auction.

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