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Head of Jake

Head of Jake
oil on canvas
18 1⁄8 x 18 1⁄8in. (46 x 46cm.)
Painted in 2006
Marlborough Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.
W. Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, no. 930 (illustrated in colour, p. 344).
W. Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2022, no. 930 (illustrated in colour, p. 386).
New York, Luhring Augustine, Frank Auerbach: Selected Works, 1978-2016, 2020-2021, p. 36 (illustrated in colour, p. 37).

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Anna Touzin
Anna Touzin Specialist, Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

Created in 2006, and acquired by the present owner the following year, Head of Jake captures Frank Auerbach’s concentrated, intimate and tender approach to painting. From a medley of umber, dark green, and wine red emerges the face of Jake, the artist’s son and one of a handful of people whom Auerbach has continued to paint across several decades; a contemporaneous portrait of the same subject is held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. From vigorous brushwork, Auerbach conjures Jake’s nose, a relaxed brow and the faintest allusion of a mouth. The intensity of the paint conveys not simply his son’s likeness, but also his physical presence. ‘Ridiculous though it might sound, I do on those occasions try to be as “me” as possible,’ Jake has said. ‘I try to project me, and put more energy into it myself’ (J. Auerbach, quoted in R. Nicholson, ‘“He used to lash himself with his brush when he was angry”: artists’ models reveal all’, The Guardian, 3 February 2018).

Jake has been sitting for Auerbach since he was seventeen years old, spending a night a week at the studio. These occasions are demanding and ritualised, lasting multiple hours with few breaks. Each finished canvas is filled with rapid brushwork, tactile passages, and frenetic movement—all the hallmarks of a spontaneously executed image—yet a single painting can take months to complete. Although the process may be arduous, the resulting works have an extraordinary vitality. As Jake observed of his father, ‘He’s recording lives, their different facets, bit by bit’ (J. Auerbach, quoted in L. Barnett, ‘Sitting for Frank Auerbach: “It's rather like being at the dentist”’, The Guardian, 30 September 2015).

Auerbach is a painter of the familiar, choosing to record only a small number of subjects, and returning time and again to those he knows thoroughly. He is acutely aware of his ‘attachments,’ and has hardly left London since making the city his home while studying at St Martin’s School of Art (F. Auerbach, quoted in C. Lampert, Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting, London 2015, p. 147). By returning to the same faces and places, Auerbach is able to look deeply and see truthfully: he possesses an intimate knowledge of the streets around his home, and the way a person holds their head. Yet Auerbach’s paintings present less a naturalistic depiction than an embodied sense of a particular sitter and atmosphere, arresting in paint the whole of the thing itself.

After applying his pigments to the canvas, Auerbach often scrapes off the paint, only to begin again another day. This technique produces an impasto surface, a textured field, which contains the traces of all the artist’s protracted efforts. The resulting images recall works by Chaïm Soutine and Nicolas de Staël, figures whom Auerbach has long admired. Paint is at its most eloquent,’ he has explained, ‘when it is a by-product of some corporeal, spatial, developing imaginative concept, a creative identification with the subject’ (F. Auerbach, quoted in C. Lampert, ibid., p. 168). The surface of Head of Jake, with its peaks and rivulets and swoops of colour, records the variability of Auerbach’s hand, and its expressive brushwork and heightened physicality reflect a charged, corporeal transference.

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