Malborough Fine Art Ltd., London
Private Collection, London
Ivor Braka, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Venice, XL Biennale Internazionale dell'Arte, 1982, no. 4, p. 42
London, Malborough Fine Art Ltd., Frank Auerbach, Recent Works, 1983, p. 8, no. 12, illustrated
Birmingham, Museum and Art Gallery, and Ikon Gallery; Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery; Southampton, Art Gallery, The British Art Show, 1984-85, no. 6
"Unless the painting surprises me – I mean being really unpredictable in the colour, the paint and everything – I couldn't possibly begin to think of it as finished...If I leave a picture it is because it actually stands up for itself, and I no longer see the trace of my will and hopes in it"
The artist cited by Lawrence Gowing in: Exhibition Catalogue, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Eight Figurative Painters, 1981 p. 14
Painted in 1981, just three years following his highly acclaimed retrospective show hosted by the Arts Council at the Hayward Gallery, the present work Large Head of J.Y.M. is a seminal exposition of Frank Auerbach's thoroughly inimitable, emotionally urgent and psychologically compelling portraiture. Closely comparable to the terrific J.Y.M. Seated I, now housed in the Tate Collection and illustrated above, the present work Large Head of J.Y.M. consists of a cacophony of forceful blows and furrowed brushstrokes that magnificently conjure the topography of the figure's head, resting on the familiar reddish-brown wooden kitchen armchair that is such a staple of the artist's studio and also appears in the Tate picture. Held within the swathes of impasto and flurried mark-making the character of Auerbach's subject emerges: simultaneously the portrait and the paint landscape itself.
Beautifully composed within the nearly-square canvas, the portrait figure is locked in place both by the horizontal architecture of the supporting chair and by the slabs of paint material themselves. This essay of subtly mediated greys, ochre and crimson recalls the artist's earliest paintings in these hues, which had been his sole artistic companions through expense and availability following the Second World War. Auerbach's majestic image has been reworked time and time again over a vastly extended period of time to forge an uncanny link between analysis and expression, this finished version emerging in an urgent crescendo of expressive brushwork.
Like Francis Bacon, Auerbach infamously depicts only subjects with whom he is extremely familiar: social intimacy affording an expressive freedom emancipated from the hesitancy of unfamiliarity. J.Y.M., acronym for Juliet Yardley Mills, is one of the cornerstone subjects of the artist's canon. She first posed for him in 1956 when she was a professional model at Sidcup College of Art, and continued to do so for over forty years until 1997. Catherine Lampert, who has sat for Auerbach since 1978, has accounted that J.Y.M. became the first regular sitter at the artist's Camden studio, where he had moved in 1954. According to William Feaver, she could sustain awkward poses for four hours or more and hugely valued sitting for the artist: "It was the most marvellous thing in my life" (in the film: Frank Auerbach: To the Studio cited in: William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 19). She arrived every Wednesday and Sunday until 1997 having taken two buses from her home in southeast London. She has said "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" (cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Royal Academy of Arts, Frank Auerbach, 2001, p. 26). Through brilliant colour and a faultless exhibition of charismatic painterly gesture, this portrait carries a terrific psychological and emotional charge and summates Lampert's observation that J.Y.M. "was a force of nature" (Ibid). Indeed, having by this point known this sitter for twenty-five years, the present work encapsulates Auerbach's statement that: "The person you're involved with most, say, is the most complicated to capture because you can't do a superficial likeness, you can't do a portrait painter's impression. You want something that measures up to the amount of feeling you have there" (the artist cited in: William Feaver, Op Cit, p. 230).
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