Courtauld Study Day
Charcoal and Chiaroscuro:
Frank Auerbach’s Graphic Portraits and Post-war Culture

Call for Papers - To accompany the exhibition Frank Auerbach: The Charcoal Heads, The Courtauld Gallery, 9 Feb — 27 May 2024

Location: The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square

Provisional Date: Friday 8 March 2024

Overview: The occasion of the first major exhibition dedicated to Frank Auerbach’s early portrait drawings from the 1950s and 1960s offers an opportunity to discuss, situate and reinterpret this rich body of work, which proved crucial in establishing the reputation of one of Britain’s most important living artists.

This study day is intended to bring together art historians, curators, conservators, artists, critics, and writers to respond to these intensely felt portraits, and place them in a wide range of interpretative contexts. It will be an opportunity to reflect on the atmosphere of 1950s and 1960s Britain, the status of drawing in the post-war art world, and the questions raised by portraiture at the time. How do Auerbach’s drawings relate to his and other artists’ practices of making in the post-war era, and to contemporary philosophy, theatre, photography, film, and literature? How did they engage with concepts of domesticity and subjecthood, and how do they express the relationship between the artist and their sitter? What do we make of these drawings’ material facture, their distinctive formal qualities, and their reworking of the traditional dynamics of pictorial chiaroscuro to modern effect? And what does it mean to draw people repeatedly and at length in a period marked by the Cold War, the Suez Crisis, and London’s post-war transformation? Created in a city cloaked by the dust of bombsites and the smog generated by coal-fired power stations, here are seventeen drawings which show what it means to live in a darkened world. How do they resonate today, in the shadows of our own era’s forms of environmental crisis, psychological anxiety, and economic turmoil?

Proposals are invited for 10-minute papers on these or any other relevant subjects. Proposals should be no more than 250 words in length, and be submitted with an up-to-date CV. They should be sent to Altair Brandon-Salmon, at The deadline for submissions is Friday, 1 December 2023 at 11.59pm.

A portrait in charcoal and chalk of a man
Frank Auerbach (b.1931), Self-Portrait, 1958, charcoal and chalk on paper, private collection © the artist, courtesy of Frankie Rossi Art Projects, London