Frank Auerbach (b. 1931)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE LONDON COLLECTOR
Frank Auerbach (b. 1931)

Head of J.Y.M.

Frank Auerbach (b. 1931)
Head of J.Y.M.
inscribed 'JYM' (lower left)
oil on board
14 x 14 in. (35.6 x 35.6 cm.)
Painted in 1970.
with Marlborough Fine Art, London.
Mr and Mrs Torquil Norman.
with Dickinson, London, where purchased by the present owner, 2008.
Exhibition catalogue, Frank Auerbach, London, Marlborough Fine Art, 1971, pp. 8, 22, no. 38, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Frank Auerbach, London, Arts Council, Hayward Gallery, 1978, p. 91, no. 95, illustrated.
W. Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York, 2009, p. 268, no. 280, illustrated.
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Frank Auerbach, January 1971, no. 38.
London, Arts Council, Hayward Gallery, Frank Auerbach, May - July 1978, no. 95: this exhibition travelled to Edinburgh, Fruit Market Gallery, July - August 1978.
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
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Lot Essay

‘To paint the same head over and over leads you to its unfamiliarity; 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, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 19).

Bold green and yellow brush strokes boldly outline the features of the sitter in this 1970 portrait, Head of J.Y.M. We look at the subject, not full-on, but from below, with her head turned slightly away from us – almost in a position of vulnerability. The strong and vibrant colours provide a feeling of energy, and the thick layers of paint take on a sculptural physical presence - as if the painting is emerging from the board and looking out onto us.

Auerbach’s process of painting, through which he achieves this thick impasto, was lengthy and heavily dependent on emotion. It was achieved as much from scraping paint off a canvas as it was from applying it. He would often work on the same portrait for days at a time, taking paint off and re-applying it to reflect his changing emotions and experiences throughout the process. Creating a thick canvas, however, was not just a stylistic choice – it was rather a method that allowed him to achieve his desired expression: ‘I don't know how they can talk about thickness, really', he once said 'Is blue better than red, thick better than thin?-- no. But the sense of corporeal reality, that's what matters. English twentieth-century painting tends to be thin, linear and illustrative. I wanted something different; I wanted to make a painting that, when you saw it, would be like touching something in the dark’ (Auerbach, quoted in R. Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London, 1990, p. 86).

J.Y.M., the sitter in question, was Julia Yardley Mills, one of Auerbach’s most portrayed and significant muses. They met for the first time in 1956 at the Sidcup College of Art, where she was a professional model – she sat for him for the first time that year surely not imagining that this was the beginning of a relationship that would last a lifetime. Yardley Mills soon became the first model to regularly come and be painted at his studio in Camden. She later spoke of how, radiant and full of energy, she adored going down to the studio on those mornings:

‘I was so happy' she had said, 'You see I had this terrific excitement when I was going. I loved getting up at 5. And I tore down those dark streets, I didn't bother about any of that’ (J. Yardley Mills, quoted in C. Lampert, N. Rosenthal and I. Carlisle (eds.), exhibition catalogue, Frank Auerbach Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, London, 2001, p. 26).

He painted her for over four decades, for hours at a time, and often multiple times a week. As time went on their relationship grew. The line to a romantic relationship was never crossed, but ‘Frankie’ and ‘Jimmie’, as they used to refer to each other, became more than just ‘artist’ and ‘muse’, they became what Yardley Mills would later describe as ‘real friend’ (ibid.).

By the time this portrait was painted, Auerbach had already been portraying Yardley Mills for almost 15 years. One would assume that painstakingly portraying someone for such a great length of time would lead to a familiarity between a sitter and an artist, but Auerbach found the opposite: 'To paint the same head over and over leads you to its unfamiliarity; 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, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 19).

This process, he believed, led to true revelation and it is for this reason that he so often painted the same models throughout his career. For Auerbach, it was only through a deep understanding of a person’s character that he could convey their essences into his pictures: ‘I'm hoping to make a new thing that remains in the mind like a new species of living thing', he explained, 'The only way I know how... to try and do it, is to start with something I know specifically, so that I have something to cling to beyond aesthetic feelings and my knowledge of other paintings’ (Auerbach, quoted in ibid., p. 12).

The main focus of Auerbach’s paintings did not lie in conveying the physical beauty of his sitters, but the pulsing life and emotions that were derived from them. Head of J.Y.M. is not the first, nor the last portrait of Yardley Mills; it is a portrait that captures his feelings in 1970 through the essence of his sitter. Those feelings differed and changed throughout his career. Head of J.Y.M. then, does not simply capture the portrait of a woman, but rather, captures the feelings and experiences of a great artist through a moment frozen in time.

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