Auerbach met Julia Yardley Mills (J.Y.M.), a professional model, in 1956 at Sidcup College of Art, and, as an admirer of his work, she offered to pose privately for him. She became a key sitter for many of his portrait works, visiting his Camden studio, where he had moved in 1954, every Wednesday and Sunday until 1997.
Auerbach first painted J.Y.M. in 1963, although she is not named in any of his picture titles until 1970. She was an energetic, tireless and uncomplaining sitter for Auerbach's demanding portraits, commenting about one work, 'I had my hands over my head. I did that for four hours. And I was so happy. You see I had this terrific excitement when I was going. I loved getting up at 5. And I tore down those dark streets, I didn't bother about any of that' (quoted in exhibition catalogue, Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, London, Royal Academy, 2001, p. 26).
Catherine Lampert notes the closeness of the relationship between artist and model through Auerbach and J.Y.M. calling each other, Frankie and Jimmie: 'Often she [J.Y.M.] would sense that Auerbach was depressed, his posture more bent as he began. She realised that 'after he stops, he is working in his brain ... we had a wonderful relationship because I thought the world of him and he was very fond of me. There was no sort of romance but we were close. Real friends. Sundays now I'm always miserable' (ibid).
Painted in 1975, the present work depicts J.Y.M.'s head in a reclining position. The work is painted with thick, impasto brushstrokes that are typical of Auerbach's working methods. The dynamism conveyed in these often broad strokes convey the energy and intensity with which the painting was created. Auerbach does not use initial underpainting or outline sketches. Instead he will paint, scrape down the surface and then return to repaint his subject the next day. In Reclining Head of J.Y.M., Auerbach has used thick strokes of black paint, which seem to pin the head down and became a feature of his works from the early 1970s: Isabel Carlisle writes, '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 expressionist delight in paint. In this way Auerbach's people are honoured with a tough integrity' (ibid, p. 62).