Primrose Hill is a small park just north of Regent's Park and London Zoo, and is within easy walking distance of the studio which Auerbach has occupied since 1954. He first painted Primrose Hill in 1960 and it has served for his landscape paintings ever since. Usually it is Primrose Hill itself which features in these paintings but in the Australian National Gallery's painting it is the view from the hill looking south-east, over the walking paths that criss-cross the park, towards London's skyline, punctuated by steeples, towers and chimneys. Auerbach may have begun work on this painting as early as 1961. A gouache in the Gallery's collection, showing a similar if slightly more easterly perspective (the large spire of the Church of St Mark is clearly visible on the right), is signed and dated 1961. Inscriptions in chalk on the reverse of the painting indicate successive reworkings early in 1962, paced out by the drying times between the accumulated layers of paint, 'not to be touched till saturday' is the first inscription. Saturday is then crossed out and the date 29 February appears. This date is succeeded by 'Thursday 12 April' (a telling inscription because 12 April fell on a Thursday in 1962 but in 1963, a date which has occasionally been ascribed to the work, it fell on a Friday), then by 29 April, 6 May, 13 May and finally by 21 May. Thus the painting was persistently reworked over almost three months, the successive transformations building up an almost relieve thickness of paint.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.314.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010