Auerbach's love of landscape is a love of London, a love of the familiar, condensed onto canvas. The scenes that recur throughout his work are of Camden Town and of Primrose Hill. This latter subject provided a strange tension as a subject: it is a rural space within the metropolis, a pool of Arcadia within the grime and bustle of the city. It is a refuge, a retreat and crucially a release. Certainly the zig-zagging lines of Tree on Primrose Hill, painted in 1986, tell of a frenzied activity on the part of the artist. This colourful landscape is filled with jutting angularity and intense colours, making it reminiscent of the paintings of the German Expressionists from the beginning of the Twentieth Century. At the same time, the texture of the paint, with its thick impasto lending the painting a profound and tangible sense of substance, is distinctly Auerbach's. The process of painting his beloved London is a different one from that of painting people, one that involves a different interaction but which also entails great freedom: 'I think my sitters would tell you that I'm usually fairly abandoned when they're there, but there's a further degree of abandon when I'm doing the landscapes because I'm absolutely on my own' (Auerbach, quoted in R. Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London, 1990, p. 170).
Following a 1978 visit to Tretire in Herefordshire, Auerbach's paintings of Primrose Hill changed. Formerly, they had focussed on space and colour in a different way, but in Tretire he realised the visual strength of painting a single tree. The bent hawthorn, which has become iconic through these representations since this revelation, stands like a figure in the landscape, like the artist in the park. As a painter, Auerbach has been influenced by a vast number of his predecessors. This not only encompasses the direct influence of his teacher Bomberg, and Bomberg's teacher Sickert, although both can be felt in this 'London' scene, but also of many earlier artists. In Tree on Primrose Hill, the monumental presence of the tree itself recalls Courbet's 1864 painting Le chêne de Flagey, a comparison pointed out by Robert Hughes. But it also more strikingly recalls Soutine's paintings of L'arbre de Vence, not only in terms of its painterly quality and its content, but also in terms of the emotional significance of the landscape. However the mood of these paintings is quite different: Soutine's gigantic tree, which he considered like a cathedral, is replaced in Auerbach's work by a withered hawthorn in a blasted heath.