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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTOR

Head of Debbie Ratcliff II

Head of Debbie Ratcliff II
oil on canvas
26 x 26in. (66 x 66cm.)
Painted in 1983-1984
Marlborough Fine Art, London.
Private Collection, Massachusetts (acquired from the above in 1984).
Anon. sale, Christie’s London, 30 June 2009, lot 25.
Marlborough Fine Art, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013.
R. Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 231, no. 75 (illustrated in colour, p. 114).
Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings, exh. cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2001, fig. 20 (illustrated in colour, p. 30).
W. Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, no. 504 (illustrated in colour, p. 295).
Venice, XLII Biennale di Venezia, British Pavilion, Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1977-1985, 1986, p. 31 (illustrated in colour, p. 49).
Hamburg, Kunstverein, Frank Auerbach, 1986-1987, p. 81, no. 36 (illustrated in colour, p. 71). This exhibition later travelled to Essen, Museum Folkwang.
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Frank Auerbach: Retrospectiva, 1954-1985, 1987, no. 36 (illustrated in colour, p. 67).
Special notice

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.
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Lot Essay

Unveiled at the 1986 Venice Biennale—where Frank Auerbach shared that year’s prestigious Golden Lion prize with Sigmar Polke—Head of Debbie Ratcliff II is a masterful portrait that stems from one of the artist’s greatest periods. With fluid, tactile brushstrokes, Auerbach bathes his subject in flickering chiaroscuro light, sculpting her features from a rich spectrum of mineral tones. During the mid-1980s, the artist’s portrait practice reached new heights, fully relinquishing the raw, encrusted surfaces of his early oeuvre in favour of sharper, clearer impressions of the human form. Ratcliff—a life model at the Slade School of Art—was one of a number of new sitters who entered his practice during this period, taking her place in a canon of muses that included Estella West (E. O. W.) and Juliet Yardley Mills (J. Y. M.). Indeed, the elegant, chiselled articulation of Ratcliff’s head shares much in common with Auerbach’s most celebrated portrait of the latter, Head of J. Y. M. (1984-1985), which was illustrated alongside it in Robert Hughes’ seminal 1990 monograph.

Originally from Australia, where she later returned to work as a writer, Ratcliff first met Auerbach at the Slade in 1983. Reportedly drawn to her angular features, the artist invited her to his studio, where she initially posed for him reclining on a bed. ‘Frank greeted me with the urgency of a lover’, she recalls. ‘I entered a large dim studio space, dripping and reeking of oil paint. The floor was spongy underneath my feet when I took off my shoes and socks … Sheets of newspaper were hung out to dry on various lines of string. Heating and gas were minimal’ (D. Ratcliff, quoted in Frank Auerbach Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London 2001, p. 30). For the second session, Auerbach decided to change his approach, seating her instead on a chair facing him. The position was a success, giving rise to a trio of works that hung together in Venice. Their upright stature recalls Giacometti’s portraits—a major source of inspiration to Auerbach—while the present work’s scumbled backdrop and piercing white highlights invoke the work of his contemporary Francis Bacon. The ghosts of the Old Masters, as always, linger quietly in the shadows.

Ratcliff’s description of her first time sitting for Auerbach attests to the visceral intensity of his working method. There was ‘groaning and rattling and lunging’, she recalls, as the artist ‘attacked’ the canvas. ‘Paint was obviously being sloshed about, then scraped and blotted with paper’, she explains (D. Ratcliff, quoted in C. Lampert, Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting, London 2015, p. 185). Over time, the two would come to relax in one another’s presence, enjoying conversations about art and literature. Such connections were important to Auerbach, who—despite the physical immediacy of his brushwork—ultimately undertook long and studied contemplations of his subjects. Over periods of up to several years, the artist would persistently rework his canvases, relentlessly seeking to draw out what his teacher David Bomberg had described as ‘the spirit in the mass’. The present work captures something of this sustained electricity: it is a portrait of the slow, complex revelations through which one comes to know another person.

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