Reclusive artist shows off sketch that took seven years

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As recluses go, Frank Auerbach is up there with Howard Hughes and J D Salinger. He has spent most of the past 50 years in isolation in his Camden Town studio in north London, toiling 364 days a year as he works and reworks portraits of a small group of family and friends.

But yesterday the public was treated to a rare sighting of the 71-year-old artist when he visited the National Portrait Gallery for the handing over of a new self-portrait.

To be fair, Auerbach does not work quickly. The pencil and charcoal sketch that went on show yesterday was begun in 1994 but completed only last year. He did have an excuse, a flood having forced him to finish the work in a temporary studio.

The self-portrait has now been bought for £17,500 by the National Art Collections Fund (Art Fund) charity, with the support of the Marlborough Fine Art Gallery. It is one of only five self-portraits by Auerbach, who has spent all his adult life in London after fleeing Nazi Germany.

Sir Nicholas Goodison, chairman of the Art Fund, said: "The sheer verve of this self-portrait made a lasting impression on us. We are delighted to have been given the rare opportunity of presenting a work of this quality as a gift to the National Portrait Gallery."

Auerbach was grouped with the likes of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in the School of London, which emerged in the 1950s.