'Her [E.O.W.'s] replacement by J.Y.M. [in 1973] confirmed and accelerated, though it did not directly cause, the freedom and comparative wildness of his mature style, whose main point (apart from a deepened role for expressive colour) was to get the whole surface moving under the action of drawing, the decisive linear marks of the brush in liquid paint' (Robert Hughes in R. Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 180).
'J.Y.M ... always returns the painter's gaze: there is a look - head cocked back, sometimes seen a little from below a bit quizzical, sometimes challenging - that makes them quite recognizable as a series, aspect after aspect of a mutable character with whom Auerbach was intensely engaged. Whereas, the portraits of E.O.W. do not usually look back at you, and when they do, never with the same briskness, that would not have been right for Auerbach's dea mater [Mother Goddess]' (R. Hughes in ibid., p. 180).
Literally bounding out of the support, encapsulated with paint which appears as thick and fresh as the day the painting was made, J.Y.M. is here seen in all of her majestic glory. Dressed in a ravishing red jacket rendered in thick gestures, opened to reveal her plunging neck line, and with her chiselled features picked out with bold strokes of raw umber, this is one of Auerbach's most important portraits. Auerbach's favourite model for whom she has now sat for over forty years, it was in this group of portraits from the early 1970s that the now iconic pose, with her head cocked back staring straight into the eyes of Auerbach would make its first appearance and signal the arrival of his 'mature style'. Here for the first time, drawing begins to come to the fore, over sculpted paint, and the liquid paint portrays a direct sense of movement and real existence. This pose, in its 1984-85 form would famously come to adorn the cover of his first major monograph by Robert Hughes which was published in 1990.
As Robert Hughes explained, 'Auerbach's main model from 1963 onwards was Juliet Yardley Mills, whose presence comes to pervade Auerbach's figure painting in the later 60s, as E.O.W.'s gradually moves out ... 'J.Y.M.' is not named in any of his picture titles until 1970, when Auerbach scrawled her initials on a portrait - a gesture made, he said, 'for the same reason that you carve people's names on trees ... one writes the name of the person or people that one is in love with.' (Robert Hughes in ibid., p. 179)
The energy that Auerbach has shown in this painting was in part a response to the vitality of the sitter herself. Auerbach first met Juliet Yardley Mills when she was a professional model at Sidcup College of Art in the 1950s, and she regularly sat for him for the next four decades, usually twice a week. J.Y.M. has herself explained that she enjoyed being a part of Auerbach's art, of his unique vision. During the course of these twice weekly sessions, Auerbach and J.Y.M. developed an intense relationship across the easel. She was one of Auerbach's great muses, appearing in many of Auerbach's most recognised pictures. Indeed, his signature style owed its existence in part to her sittings and to her influence, her personality. The incredible familiarity that the artist gained with her features during these decades of sittings became one of the great cornerstones of his painting. 'To paint the same head over and over leads you to its unfamiliarity,' Auerbach has explained. 'Eventually you get near the raw truth about it, just as people only blurt out the raw truth in the middle of a family quarrel' (Auerbach, quoted in R. Hughes, ibid., p. 19). Already, by the time Head of J.Y.M. was painted, Auerbach had been studying her features for over a decade, and it is this familiarity, the product of weekly sittings over the course of ten years, that has resulted in the visceral visual and physical impact of this luscious painting.