In 2013 Fred Jahn presented works by Paula Rego in the rooms of the Munich Residenz. The exhibition was called "Prints and Related Drawings" and was her first solo exhibition in Germany. This gave rise to the idea of a further exhibition in which Rego's prints would be shown alongside two other great painter-printmakers.
Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud were part of the so-called "School of London", a group of artists who lived in London in the 1950s and, despite the rise and ultimate dominance of abstraction, were committed to the renewal of figurative painting. Kitaj coined the term "School of London" in 1976 to indicate the incredible variety and vitality of contemporary art in England. It was not a school in the stylistic-pedagogical sense; rather the collective term refers to the fact that a group of outstanding figurative painters had formed, connected through a feeling of mutual admiration and ambition. Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Michael Andrews, Raymond Mason, and Roland B. Kitaj formed the core of the group. Paula Rego is also included on the basis of group exhibitions and friendships.
With the exception of five drawings by Frank Auerbach, the current exhibition concentrates on the medium of print, as the graphic oeuvres of all three artists are equivalent to their paintings and drawings. Even if the visual worlds depicted in Auerbach, Rego, and Freud’s prints are very different, they nonetheless share a belief in the human form as an artist starting point.
Frank Auerbach, born in 1931 in Berlin, was sent to England as a child in 1939 to save him from persecution by the National Socialists. His parents were murdered in Auschwitz. In 1947 Auerbach moved to London where he still lives today. Withdrawn and avoiding the public sphere, he works almost obsessively on his spectrum of topics which he keeps very limited. He basically has two areas which he consistently reworks: He produces sketches and paintings of the area surrounding his studio in London and does portraits of a small number of people who have been his subjects for decades. Characteristic of his work is the immense vigor of representation that immediately emerges at the moment of viewing. For Auerbach, reality is an oppressive premonition that overwhelms the viewer – without directly recognizing the motif. With nervous, almost agile lines, Auerbach creates landscapes and people who have no identity, no psychology. He sets no contours and searches for no truth. His work is about the representation of changeability, the fleeting moment.
Lucian Freud was born in 1922 in Berlin. His family had to immigrate to England in 1933. From 1949 the artist, Sigmund Freud’s grandson, lived in London where he died in 2011. He made portraits of friends, members of his family, and repeatedly of himself. Uncompromising and confrontational, he presents his models as they are: naked, haggard, old, overweight, wrinkly, and often with flaccid, exposed sexual organs. While his early work was defined by the exact replication of the real, from the 1960s he transposed the psychology and precision of his art into the physical, and hyperrealism gave way to a vivid and brutal opulence. Beauty was of no interest to him, nor did he believe in a higher aesthetic. Freud was inspired by old master paintings, for example those by Goya and Courbet with their dark existential depictions and the charismatic figures of Corinth and Giacometti. One of the prints shown in the current exhibition is titled "After Chardin" and it can be assumed that Freud saw the original by Jean-Siméon Chardin, "The Young Schoolmistress" from 1790, at the National Gallery in London, which he then sketched and etched – accounting for the reverse motif. Chardin was considered the greatest individualist among the French painters of the 18th century and was famous for his still lifes, genre paintings, and portraits. The figures’ self-reliant stances in Chardin’s genre paintings, the unbelievable similarity to the classically staged objects in the "natures mortes", combined with unique coloring, can also be found in the portraits by Lucian Freud. His realism, shaped by the use of thick paint and expressive brushwork, earned him his reputation as the most significant portrait painters of our time.
Paula Rego, born in 1935 in Lisbon, left Portugal and Salazar’s dictatorial regime as a teenager in 1952 and went to London where she has since lived and worked. Her work is influenced by a unique combination of figures, narration, humor, and an unmistakable contemporaneity. While her early works, mostly collages from the late 1950s and early 1960s, dealt with political topics, from 1966 on she changed not only her technique, by predominantly using painting and printmaking, but also her subject matter, which now included the family, the role of women in society, power, suffering, and suppression. Primarily women, entangled in grotesque situations, now play the main roles in her magical realist works which are still typical today. At the beginning of the 1990s, she made another technical change, using only pastel colors and addressing the feelings of women and their role in society. The sources of her imaginative and complex works are fairy tales, sagas, children’s stories, mythological figures, literature, and socio-political discussions, such as the discussions on abortion in Portugal in the 1990s. A number of examples on this topic are included in the exhibition. Rego’s stories are not illustrative. Each subject is examined in terms of its autobiographical suitability and with regard to its subversive social significance. By staging her subject matter in an exaggerated manner, she realizes not only an aesthetic tending towards the grotesque, but also succeeds in drastically highlighting the subversive potential of the traditional, popular, and established. This makes her work contemporary and timeless. In her studio Rego sets up mannequins, dolls, and masks, and creates animals and figures that she distorts and transforms for her large-scale compositions. Thus, works emerge that blend reality and fiction, dreams and nightmares.