Dating from 1988, the present work is one of a series of 'portraits' that Auerbach painted of Julia Wolstenholme, whom he married in 1958, but then parted from soon after. This series of works was begun in 1976, the year that the couple were reunited.
Isabel Carlisle comments on Auerbach's series of portraits, 'The profound respect for human emotions as shown by the old masters is the bedrock of Auerbach's art. As Auerbach paints only friends - friends who have dedicated a considerable portion of their lives to his art - their faces become familiar to the viewer with studied looking. However while he is trying for a likeness, the work may not always be immediately accepted as a replica; he has taken on almost no portrait commissions. Rather, the aim is to celebrate life through the energy specific to all individuals through their changing moods and to fuse those energies with his own furious energy during the painting's execution. Auerbach qualifies this by saying, 'The energy of the execution may first strike the viewer but it is energy in pursuit of a geometry of an exact expression'.
'From the early 1970s, while still making space with colour, Auerbach has used an armature of thick black lines to pin down his sitters at the last moment. These may delineate the outer edges of the person, but are frequently used for the eyes, nose and mouth, the direction of the arms or the tilt of the chin. Applied wet on wet, black brush marks sink into the already marbled viscosity of the paint beneath, dragging colours into them or displacing pigment to either side. They give the work an authority of finality and trap its energy in a way that reasserts the solid core within Auerbach's expressionistic delight in paint. In this way Auerbach's people are honoured with a tough integrity' (Exhibition catalogue, Frank Auerbach Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, London, Royal Academy, 2001, p. 62).