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Contemporary Art, Evening

by Sotheby's

June 23, 2004

London, United Kingdom

Frank Helmuth Auerbach (1931) Please Register/Login to access your Invaluable Alerts

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Description: signed

oil on canvas

Executed in 1984-85.

Notes: Frank Auerbach's Head of J.Y.M. II represents one of his most intensely passionate portraits of Juliet Yardley Mills, whom he has transformed into a memorable theme in her own right through decades of intense study. Scraped and sculpted, the richly impastoed surface of the present work narrates the story of its creation, powerfully conveying the depth of Auerbach's emotional response to his subject and resulting in "one of my best paintings." (letter from the artist to the present owner dated 23rd June 1989)

J.Y.M has been one of only three main models used by Auerbach since they first met in 1957, and since this time she has continued to pose for him in the subject of some of the artist's most intimate and powerful paintings exploring the solitary figure. As Robert Hughes states in his monograph, Auerbach "has turned her into one of the most vivid personages in modern depictive art, transformed by his repetition and re-seeing into a human icon as memorable as Giacometti's wife Annette or his brother Diego." (in Robert Hughes, Ibid., p. 89) As a pupil of David Bomberg, who himself was a pupil of Sickert, Auerbach sits firmly within the tradition of great British figurative painters and regards depicting the posed human figure as the ultimate test of a painter's capabilities. Through the process of painting the same subject repeatedly, Auerbach is able to construct a familiarity with his models whilst exploring the infinite variety offered by light, distance, angle and mood.

With the J.Y.M portraits of the 1980's, Auerbach felt able to risk a more direct engagement than in his earlier work as Robert Hughes suggests: "Rearing up, not recoiling, but with her back, one is made to feel, pressed against the back of the chair; the hair resolved into a dense supporting architecture by the broad ochre-to-umber swipes of the brush... J.Y.M is an imposing presence here, very old, almost hieratic. Yet although one feels a strong sense of confrontation with the sitter, she has no recognisable facial expression... Because of the lack of expression, the vehement marks with which Auerbach tries to summon up the density of her presence also push the image towards abstraction... The sense of movement is what counts. Auerbach was quite specific about that: painting must 'awaken a sense of physicality', transcend its inherent flatness, or fail." (in Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 205)

Instead of working from a palette, Auerbach applies pure pigment straight from the tube before energetically scraping and fusing colours together over the picture surface. A staunch perfectionist and critic of his own work, Auerbach's technique often involves the laborious removal of paint from previous sittings if he is not happy with a painting's organic development. Effectively restarting his paintings many times until completely satisfied, the thickness of accumulated paint is a direct result of his desire to capture truthful representation and likeness, energetically reapplying himself to the construction of a single image. As such his work develops over a period of months, sometimes years, assuming a sculptural presence in which one can retrace the artist's process of creation. Sensitive to the gift of someone else's time, Auerbach's portraits capture a sense of urgency and anxiety within the shallow chamber of chiaroscuro in which he enshrines his figures.


Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London
Private Collection, New York
Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1989

Dimensions: 66 by 61cm.

26 by 24in.

Exhibited: London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Frank Auerbach: Works of 1984-1985, 1985

Literature: Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 115, pl. 76, illustrated in colour

Date: B. 1931

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