Frank Auerbach (b. 1931)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Frank Auerbach (b. 1931)

Head of E.O.W.

Frank Auerbach (b. 1931)
Head of E.O.W.
oil on board
12¼ x 8¼ in. (31 x 21 cm.)
Painted in 1957.
with Beaux Arts Gallery, London.
Philip Sutton R.A., London.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 30 June 1983, lot 420, where purchased by Alan Mann.
His Sale; Christie's, London, 12 December 2008, lot 42, where purchased 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.

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Anne Haasjes
Anne Haasjes

Lot Essay

Head of E.O.W. is a rich, sculptural and lustrous portrait of Frank Auerbach's former lover Estella 'Stella' West. Auerbach's relationship with Stella West began in 1948 when the young, determined artist stepped out onto the stage of Frank Marcus's production of Peter Ustinov's House of Regrets. Stella was cast in the same play as a White Russian landlady and she remembers liking him instantly: 'Frank was a very beautiful young man, looking very much older than his years, very mature. If he hadn't been a painter he would probably have been an actor' (D. Sylvester, 'Young English Painting', The Listener, 1954 quoted in W. Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York, 2009, p. 133). Stella was herself an amateur actress of thirty-two, a spirited blonde widow with three children to raise. She ran a lodging house in Earl's Court and the same year, Auerbach came to live in her basement room. Shortly after, Stella became his lover and his principal model, Auerbach propping up his canvas on a chair in their bedroom, kneeling in front to paint her portrait three times a week. In many respects, Stella West and her children offered Auerbach a sense of belonging hitherto denied. The artist had been sent to school in Britain in early 1939 at the behest of his parents following the rise of National Socialism in Germany. The eight-year-old boy was never to see his family again. He last heard from them in 1942, still living under the dark mantle of Nazism. These events may explain Auerbach's ritual of painting the same subject, poring over their form for hours and indeed over twenty years in the case of E.O.W. As the artist once revealingly said, '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' (Frank Auerbach quoted in ibid., p. 19).

The couple's relationship was intense and sometimes fractious especially in light of Auerbach's propensity to work and rework his canvases. As Auerbach once explained: 'The person posing for me was someone I was involved with so the whole situation was obviously more tense and fraught. There was always the feeling that she might get fed up, that there might be a quarrel or something. I also had a much greater sense of what specifically she was like, so that the question of getting a likeness was like walking a tightrope. I had a far more poignant sense of it slipping away, of it being hard to get. I'd done the painting in some sittings in a relatively timid way, that is I'd tried to do one part and then another part, and save a bit. Then I suddenly found in myself enough courage to repaint the whole thing, from top to bottom, irrationally and instinctively, and I found I'd got a picture of her' (Frank Auerbach quoted in C. Lampert et al. (ed.), Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, London, 2001, p. 23).

West sat for Auerbach until 1973 and he commented, 'All of the heads of E.O.W. were worked from E.O.W. for a period of 20 years, 3 times a week, year in year out. They were all done by electric light, in the evening. I think it may well be that electric light had something to do with the look that they had, that is, the particular colours and the paint' (see exhibition catalogue, Frank Auerbach, London, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1978, p. 14).

From 1948 Auerbach attended evening classes at Borough Polytechnic Institute where he was taught by David Bomberg. The influence of the older artist on Auerbach is clear: Auerbach recalled that Bomberg wanted him, 'to apprehend the weight, the twist, the stance, of a human being anchored by gravity: to produce a souvenir of that' (see R. Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London, 1990, p. 31). During the 1950s, Auerbach was particularly influenced by the examples of the artists around him, becoming an avid visitor to art galleries and museums, often making sorties with his friend Leon Kossoff to the National Gallery in London. Auerbach gravitated towards William Hogarth and Rembrandt, who was to become a constant source of enriched visual material and inspiration for the artist.

Alan Mann, he previous owner of Head of E.O.W., was a passionate collector. In his flat overlooking the Thames on Richmond Hill he created an eclectic treasure trove. Born in London, he joined his father's firm of Quantity Surveyors after he left school, and later lived with his brother in a flat above the business in Bloomsbury Square. The British Museum was on his doorstep and his collecting was inspired by the frequent visits he paid to the museum. Mann was also a keen collector of 20th Century British Art.

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