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Head of William Feaver

Head of William Feaver
oil on canvas
22 1/8 x 20 ¼in. (56.1 x 51.3cm.)
Painted in 2008
Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014.
W. Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, no. 973 (illustrated in colour, p. 351).
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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Anna Touzin
Anna Touzin Specialist, Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

From a spirited web of thick brushwork emerge the traces of a face in Frank Auerbach’s Head of William Feaver. The titular subject, the critic and curator William Feaver, authored Auerbach’s 2009 catalogue raisonné, and began sitting for him while working on the publication in 2003. The two were already well-acquainted, however: Feaver had first written on Auerbach’s work back in the 1970s, and became one of his most important early champions. In the present painting, Auerbach has modelled Feaver’s features in thick colourful impasto, which brings mass to the flat picture plane and imbues this face with a profound vivacity. Although the brushwork may appear spontaneous, the painting is in fact the result of a long process of multiple sittings, during which the artist often scrapes away his previous day’s work; each layer of pigment accrues history, depth, and intimacy. Indeed, he returns again and again to the same faces in the hope of distilling further their essence in paint. Painted in 2008, Head of William Feaver embodies Auerbach’s visceral and captivating visual language.

Starting from a point of deep familiarity, Auerbach seeks to depict not just physical likenesses but instead a sense of presence in all its variability. As he explained to Catherine Lampert, another of his regular sitters, ‘All sorts of artists, perhaps most of the good ones, have painted “models” “posing”, but I am interested in recording things, not models posing, but people who come to the studio as it exists’ (F. Auerbach, quoted in C. Lampert, Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting, London 2015, p. 194). Although his sitters may not be instantly identifiable, in his portraits Auerbach endeavours to arrest a candid human honesty. The artist has observed that ‘to paint the same head over and over [can lead] 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’ (F. Auerbach, quoted in R. Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p. 19). The ambiguity of the final image in Head of William Feaver captures an intensely personal emotional relationship.

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