Head of Julia II is a seminal example of Auerbach's distinctive portraits of female heads. The work is modelled on his wife Julia Wolstenhome, whom he met and married during his years at the Royal College of Art. Characterised by his recognisable style of heavy textured layering and expressionistic gestural lines, a style that evolved through creating repeated depictions of his then mistress, Estella Olive West (E.O.W.). The influences Auerbach brings to bear in this work are wrought with ironic tension. Auerbach's relationship with E.O.W. played havoc with the early days of his marital life and led to his and Julia's eventual separation, only reuniting in 1976 after he and Estella had parted ways. This portrait, painted nearly a decade after their reunion, is not only a fine representation of Auerbach's mature oeuvre, but also suggests his key inspirations in his later life and is an important addition to the chronology of portraits based on his wife.
This work on paper is roughly formed, however it is also intimate, dense, inquisitive, and less literal in its detail than other early portraits of Julia, as though the boundaries of their relationship, like the lines of the figure have been effaced and restructured again. Its organic rawness generates a startling, immediate impact, but in representational clarity it does not yield in entirety to its viewer. We sense that this is not the portrait of a muse or a lover, but that of a familiar bedrock explored and re-explored again throughout Auerbachs career as an artist. The tilt of Julia's head is not defined, depicted instead as faceted through multiple gazes in different directions, yet never looking directly at the artist, as if showing the inclination of Julia's own personality at the time while additionally creating a sensation of the implacable bond yet intangible distance between artist and sitter.