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Apart from the odd weed, the concrete passageway is clean and free of dustbins and debris.

The noise of children playing, of birdsong, piano practice and the strains of Radio 4 suggest a certain kind of genteel neighbourhood.

‘It’s no good presenting artists as approachable blokes who happen to paint, although some may have the coolness or grace to lend themselves to this.

Then as now I was mesmerised by his work, by his ability to capture the essence of a person or place; how the paint on his canvases never seems to dry and ossify but remains vibrant, fluid, jewel-encrusted, fizzing with energy and mystery. ‘The thing is, painting is mysterious and I don’t want it demystified,’ he wrote to me.

It is the life of an ascetic, but one dedicated to work instead of religious or spiritual goals.

‘There have been painters who almost haven’t had a life – Mondrian comes to mind, whose life seemed to be very austere and hermit like,’ he says.

As a young man Auerbach sold his canvases from pavements for a few guineas; these days his major paintings sell for millions of pounds.

His work is collected by museums and dedicated individuals.

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