- Auerbach: The Origin of the Great Bear, 1967-8
- Frank Auerbach
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- Oil on board 114.6 x 140.2 cm Tate. Presented by the executors of the estate of David Wilkie 1993 © Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
The Origin of the Great Bear was commissioned by David Wilkie, an important collector of Modern British Art, in 1967. Wilkie had previously commissioned Auerbach to produce a work based on Titian’s mythological painting Tarquin and Lucretia. For this commission Wilkie asked Auerbach to produce a painting with a Titianesque subject without referring to a specific work by Titian.
The subject matter for the painting is the myth of Callisto as told in Meamorphoses. Auerbach interpreted the myth freely, scattering elements of the story within a depiction of a real place – Hampstead Heath. On the horizon is the Royal Free Hospital; the red figure is both the goddess Diana with her hounds and the Labour politician Michael Foot with his dog. The eagle form in the top left represents Jupiter as he prevents Callisto from killing his longlost mother in bear form, which are represented by the seven bright stars as seen in the night sky.
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