Lot 24
  • 24


1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Frank Auerbach
  • Head of J.Y.M.
  • oil on board
  • 38.1 by 38.1 cm. 15 by 15 in.
  • Executed in 1976.


Marlborough Fine Art Ltd, London
Ivor Braka, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005 


William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 278, no. 365, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly lighter in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
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Catalogue Note

“She was brought into the world to be a model, she came and sat and it was not quite like anything else.” Frank Auerbach in: Catherine Lampert, Frank Auerbach. Speaking and Painting, London 2015, p. 184.

Among the most psychologically arresting portraits of Frank Auerbach’s prodigious output, Head of J.Y.M is immediately striking for its remarkable draughtsmanship and an impressive summation of the artist’s powers of scrutiny. Auerbach’s analysis of his subject’s physiognomy is expressed here through a sensational use of medium that thoroughly narrates his unique working process. Portraiture has always been a key theme in Auerbach's career and his early renditions from the 1970s are amongst the most visceral and ambitious of his entire corpus. They are dense with surface matter and bear the scars of the artist’s furious energy and the physicality with which he scrutinises his subjects. Indeed, the present work consists of a cacophony of forceful blows and furrowed brushstrokes that magnificently conjure the topography of the sitter’s head. Held within the swathes of impasto and flurried mark-making, the character of Auerbach's subject emerges. Painted in 1976, just two years prior to his highly acclaimed retrospective show hosted by the Arts Council at the Hayward Gallery, the present work, Head of J.Y.M., is a seminal exposition of Auerbach's thoroughly inimitable, emotionally urgent and psychologically compelling portraiture.

Beautifully composed within its square format, the intensity of the artist's response to sitter and subject is gloriously brought to life through a bravura handling of oil paint. Auerbach's majestic image has been reworked time and time again over a vastly extended period to forge an uncanny link between analysis and expression; the finished version emerging in an urgent crescendo of expressive brushwork. The paint has been acutely layered to create a textured topography of pigment where impasto seemingly drips from the surface enlivening the bold silhouette that emerges from the composition. In comparison to the earthy tones of black, grey and umber that characterise many of his portraits from the previous decade, the luminous hues of the sitter’s face are immediately striking and contrast dramatically against the energetic outlines of black impasto which vigorously sculpt the eyes, nose, mouth and jaw. Swathes of red punctuate her shoulders, which are framed against a rich background of olive green.

The result of many hours spent before his subject, analysing her every feature and staring into her soul, Head of J.Y.M is undoubtedly one of the most psychologically arresting portraits from the decade. The intense accretion of pigment mirrors Auerbach’s acute powers of scrutiny and reveals his passionate relationship with paint; building up the surface of the composition, then scraping it away only to build it up again. In this manner, Auerbach strives to capture the unique presence of the person, the very essence of being seated before him.

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 was brought into the world to be a model, she came and sat and it was not quite like anything else” (Frank Auerbach cited in: Catherine Lampert, Frank Auerbach. Speaking and Painting, London 2015, p. 184). 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. Curator 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. As the artist remembers “she was able to sit for an infinite time, sometimes hours without any break, quite extraordinary, and didn’t seem to mind it” (Ibid., p. 87). She arrived every Wednesday and Sunday until 1997 having taken two buses from her home in southeast London. Of this longstanding dialogue between artist and sitter, Mills 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" (Juliet Yardley Mills cited in: Exh. Cat., 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, encapsulating Lampert's observation that J.Y.M. "was a force of nature" (Ibid., p. 87). Indeed, having by this point known J.Y.M. for twenty-five years, the present work powerfully illustrates 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" (Frank Auerbach cited in: William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 230).