Description: Reclining head of E.O.W.
oil on board
16 x 16in. (40.6 x 40.6cm.)
Painted in 1969
Artist or Maker: Frank Auerbach (b. 1931)
Exhibited: London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Frank Auerbach, January 1971, no. 23.
Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus, British Council Exhibition; The School of London, Six Figurative Painters, May-June 1987, no. 17 (illustrated, unpaged). This exhibition later travelled to Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, June-August 1987; Venice, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Ca'Pesaro, September-October 1987; and Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum, November 1987-January 1988.
Provenance: Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London.
Acquired from the above by Miss Beston in 1969.
Notes: THE COLLECTION OF THE LATE MISS VALERIE BESTON: ARTISTS FROM THE LONDON SCHOOL
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Painted in 1969, Reclining Head of E.O.W. is a late portrait of Stella West, Auerbach's first and most important muse. This poignant painting is intimate both in scale and in viewpoint, with the head of Stella West lying near the artist. This reflects Stella's multi-faceted presence in Auerbach's life: she had been his landlady in the late 1940s, had become his lover and had been the model for his most groundbreaking paintings, pictures in which he developed and honed his unique visual idiom. At the same time, the texture of the surface and the intense intimisme recall the paintings of Sickert, one of Auerbach's greatest influences and the teacher of his own tutor, David Bomberg.
In Reclining Head of E.O.W., Stella's head seems almost to blend into the background. There is a great sense of substance in the impasto and yet the zig-zagging, scaffolding-like brushstrokes that often convey the volume of a face in Auerbach's paintings seem pointedly absent. Instead, the subject is defined more by a silhouetted profile than by an amalgam of strokes and lines. This reflects the fact that Reclining Head of E.O.W. dates from the later stages of Auerbach's relationship with Stella - indeed, the relationship would reach its bitter end only four years later. Robert Hughes has pointed out that during the last years of their relationship, E.O.W.'s physical presence in Auerbach's paintings of her became increasingly compromised. Stella's physical centrality in Auerbach's world, her physical magnetism, had diminished over the years, supplanted by other models and other characters in the artist's life. By the time Reclining Head of E.O.W. was painted, Auerbach was in his 30s, she in her 50s. This painting therefore poignantly records the waning of her influence both in his art and his life, and yet does so with great emotional intensity. The painstaking agglomeration of paint with which Auerbach depicts Stella here, the meticulous manner in which he has constructed and accumulated paint and forms in order to usher in her physical presence, appears to show Auerbach struggling against this slow process of deteriorating interest in his subject. In this sense, the thickness of the paint shows the artist compensating for her diminishing physicality as he tries to conjure up and revive the older relationship between the pair.
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