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    Sale 11797

    Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

    29 June 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 24

    Frank Auerbach (b. 1931)

    Figure Seated on Bed

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Frank Auerbach (b. 1931)
    Figure Seated on Bed
    oil on canvas
    24¼ x 28in. (61.4 x 71.2cm.)
    Painted in 1969


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    ‘I was so happy. You see I had this terrific excitement when I was going. I loved getting up at 5. And I tore down those dark streets’

    —J. YARDLEY MILLS (subject of the present work)

    ‘We had a wonderful relationship because I thought the world of him and he was very fond of me ... there was no sort of romance but we were close. Real friends’

    —J. YARDLEY MILLS (subject of the present work)

    ‘The apparent distortion of the figure invites comparison with Francis Bacon. Bacon’s lying figures, however, always occupy an artificial stage which seems to have been coldly painted as an arena within which the act of painting is performed. Auerbach treats the space, the bed and the figure with an equal intensity’

    —C. WIGGINS

    ‘[These works mark] a change in Auerbach’s facture which had been on its way since the middle of the 60s and became pervasive by the end – the complete absorption of drawing into the painterly stroke, so that the form of a head or body, instead of growing by accretion into a solid mass, was improvised, laced together by its graphic energy. The paint is still thick but no longer crusty, and the part of Auerbach’s now clarified colour is to evoke its lost mass’

    —R. HUGHES


    Formerly held in the Saatchi Collection, Frank Auerbach’s Figure Seated on Bed, 1969, belongs to a series of works depicting one of the artist’s most significant muses, Juliet Yardley Mills (‘J.Y.M.’). Amidst luxuriant swathes of molten impasto, swept across the canvas in vertical and horizontal bands, a jewel-like figure is brought to life through a series of elegant painterly arabesques. Seated, she leans against the wall behind her, with her right arm resting on the bed. The present work is the largest in a series of four variations on this pose, broadening its purview to reveal a greater proportion of the artist’s studio interior. Created largely between 1966 and 1970, Auerbach’s portraits of J.Y.M. upon a bed mark an important turning point in his practice. Abandoning the thick, encrusted ridges of paint that had defined his earlier depictions of his mistress Estella West (E.O.W.), Auerbach began to cultivate a more fluent painterly style, freely dispersing his medium with energetic brushstrokes and, at times, his own hands. Having recently signed a contract with the Beaux Arts Gallery in London, the artist was able to purchase high-quality coloured pigments for the first time, and the works from this period – including his celebrated North London landscapes – were suddenly saturated by a new palette of brilliant green, turquoise, red and canary yellow. The vibrant chromatic spectrum of Figure Seated on Bed, as well as its liberated gestural language, testifies to the reinvention of Auerbach’s practice during the late 1960s. A similar work from the series – Figure on a Bed, 1967-70 – is held in the collection of Tate, London: recently the site of the artist’s major touring retrospective.

    With its abstract planar divisions and graceful linear economy, Figure Seated on Bed is imbued with a sense of sublime compositional order that belies its fluid surface. As Colin Wiggins has claimed of this particular group of paintings, ‘The apparent distortion of the figure invites comparison with Francis Bacon. Bacon’s lying figures, however, always occupy an artificial stage which seems to have been coldly painted as an arena within which the act of painting is performed. Auerbach treats the space, the bed and the figure with an equal intensity’ (C. Wiggins, ‘Frank Auerbach’, in Artscribe, no. 22, April 1980). For Hughes, Auerbach’s thick slabs of colour – reminiscent of Nicolas de Staël’s trowel-like application of paint – create the impression of a glowing altar upon which the figure is raised. This reverential quality, he writes, is ‘reinforced by the pale pillar-like form that the studio stove has become – but also its countervailing sensuous presence, displaced into the paint itself. Each stroke of the brush seems to have its particular weight and clarity, a direct outlet of feeling into substance, mark by decisive mark, the specificity of the touch grounded in the long-meditated concreteness of J.Y.M.’s presence in the artist’s life, and in his occupation of this particular room. And yet in its sudden eloquence and brightness of colour the image feels like an apparition, a thing “materialized” whole and entire, all at once’ (R. Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 165).

    Auerbach first met Juliet when she was a professional model at Sidcup College of Art in 1956. ‘Jimmie’ – as she was affectionately known – was the first person to be painted in Auerbach’s Camden studio, and subsequently sat for him almost every Wednesday and Saturday for the next four decades. According to Catherine Lampert, she was ‘a force of nature, adaptable, optimistic and uncomplaining’ (C. Lampert, ‘Auerbach and his Sitters’, in Frank Auerbach Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2001, p. 26). Following the series of paintings upon Auerbach’s studio bed, she went on to feature in a distinguished series of full-length portraits and sumptuously rendered heads, including Head of J.Y.M., 1978 (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), Head of J.Y.M. III, 1980 (British Council) and J.Y.M. Seated No. 1, 1981 (Tate, London). ‘I was so happy’, she recalls. ‘You see I had this terrific excitement when I was going. I loved getting up at 5. And I tore down those dark streets’ (J. Yardley Mills, quoted in C. Lampert, ‘Auerbach and his Sitters’, in Frank Auerbach Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2001, p. 26). She loved modelling, but in particular she relished the opportunity to witness the artist’s creative development first-hand. ‘We had a wonderful relationship because I thought the world of him and he was very fond of me’, she has explained. ‘... there was no sort of romance but we were close. Real friends’ (J. Yardley Mills, quoted in C. Lampert, ‘Auerbach and his Sitters’, in Frank Auerbach Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2001, p. 26).

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    Provenance

    Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London.
    Villiers Fine Art, Paddington, New South Wales.
    Private Collection, New South Wales.
    Saatchi Collection, London.
    Anon. sale, Sotheby’s New York, 14 November 1991, lot 286.
    Private Collection, New York.
    Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.


    Pre-Lot Text

    PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION


    Literature

    A Hicks (ed.), New British Art in the Saatchi Collection, London 1989, no. 13 (illustrated in colour, p. 33).
    W. Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, no. 252 (illustrated in colour, p. 264).
    E. Booth-Clibborn (ed.), The History of the Saatchi Gallery, London 2011 (illustrated in colour, p. 225).


    Exhibited

    New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Frank Auerbach, 1969, no. 50 (illustrated in colour, p. 17).
    London, Marlborough Fine Art, Frank Auerbach, 1971, p. 7, no. 16 (illustrated in colour, p. 17).
    Paddington, Villiers Fine Art Gallery, Frank Auerbach, 1972, no. 11 (illustrated in colour).
    London, The Saatchi Gallery, Auerbach, Deacon, Freud, Hodgkin, Kitaj, Kossoff, 1989-1990.