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Head of Jake

Head of Jake
oil on canvas
20 1⁄4 x 24 1⁄8in. (51.4 x 61.3cm.)
Painted in 2014
Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London.
Private Collection, London (acquired from the above in 2015).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
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

Painted in 2014, the year before the artist’s major retrospective at Tate Britain, Head of Jake is a rich, sculptural portrait by Frank Auerbach. Demonstrating Auerbach’s nuanced understanding of tonality and light, swathes of greens and pale yellow conjure the face of Jake—the artist’s son. Auerbach has a rotating cast of regular subjects, and his models come six nights a week. Jake, who has been sitting for his father since he was seventeen years old, spends Mondays in the studio and stays for around two hours. During their sessions, the two discuss a range of subjects until Auerbach becomes too consumed by the process of painting itself. ‘It’s not as if it’s a painting every week,’ Jake has said. ‘It can take up to two years to make a painting. These things take a long time. At the end of each sitting if the thing doesn’t have a potential to be finished, all the paint gets scraped off’ (J. Auerbach quoted in N. Siegal, ‘Masters of Paint, Time and Intimacy’, New York Times, 2 October 2019). Another portrait of Jake, from 2006-2007, is held in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Although Auerbach’s paintings often appear spontaneous and rapidly executed, they are in fact the result of a long and arduous process. He does not make preparatory sketches but begins the painting immediately. His dynamic brushwork conveys the energy and intensity with which he works. Auerbach regularly scrapes off his paint after a sitting, repeating this process over many months. This technique produces a heavily tactile, impastoed surface that captures each trace and residue of his process. Though it may teeter on the edge of abstraction, Head of Jake is far from expressionistic. Instead, the fluctuating nature of the work underscores Auerbach’s interest in the existential qualities of paint, revealing how an image—and the act of painting itself—can open new ways of seeing.

As a portraitist, Auerbach has long focused on a small number of subjects; he chooses to paint only those that he knows well. As he has said, ‘I’ve got certain attachments to people and places, and it seems to me simply to be less worthwhile to record things to which I’m less attached, since I know about things that nobody else knows about’ (F. Auerbach quoted in C. Lampert, Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting, London, 2015, p. 147). By returning to the same faces again and again, Auerbach gains an intimate understanding of his sitters. He is acutely attuned to their moods and needs. As Jake has explained, ‘He’s recording lives, their different facets, bit by bit’ (J. Auerbach, quoted in L. Barnett, ‘Sitting for Frank Auerbach’, The Guardian, 30 September 2015). As such, Auerbach endeavours to capture not an exact likeness but rather a physical presence—and the many shifts and changes that occur over years and decades. If the subject of Head of Jake is not instantly identifiable, this ambiguity reflects the charged, reciprocal relationship between sitter and artist. Both give to each other—and to the painting.

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