Lot 27
  • 27

FRANK AUERBACH | Head of Julia

600,000 - 800,000 USD
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  • Frank Auerbach
  • Head of Julia
  • oil on canvas
  • 26 1/8 by 26 1/8 in. 66.4 by 66.4 cm.
  • Executed in 1985.


Marlborough Fine Art, London
Sue and David Workman (acquired from the above in 1988)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


London, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd, Frank Auerbach: Recent Paintings and Drawings, January - February 1987, p. 2, no. 5, illustrated in color
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Frank Auerbach: "To the Studios" and Other Works, May - July 1991 (text) (as Portrait of Julia)
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, September - December 2001, p. 93, no. 56, illustrated in color


Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London, 1990, p. 119, no. 80, illustrated in color 
William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York, 2009, p. 128, no. 532, illustrated in color and p. 299, no. 532, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Frank Auerbach has described his painting as an attempt to elicit the equivalent of “…what you feel when you touch someone next to you in the dark.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, 2001, p. 23) The artist’s emphasis on likeness has less to do with aesthetic similarity than it does with a desire to render his subject’s personality and essence in paint. Auerbach’s determined focus to bring to life his subjects’ personalities affords the viewer an intimate glimpse into the otherwise private relationship between artist and sitter, a pivotal component of Auerbach’s oeuvre. Acquired directly from his dear friend David Workman, Auerbach's Head of Julia has remained in the distinguished collection of Gerald L. Lennard and has not been publicly exhibited since its inclusion in the seminal show Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001 at the Royal Academy in London in 2001. Head of Julia presents Auerbach’s wife Julia Wolstenhome, whom he married in 1958. Like Alberto Giacometti – whom the artist met in 1965 - Auerbach centralizes his artistic practice on whittling a small group of sitters down to the bare essentials of their being, and in doing so, has created a body of work that speaks as much to his own personality as it does to those of his subjects; however, Auerbach inverts Giacometti’s reductive aesthetic strategy, instead building up a sculptural accumulation of paint. This creative thesis is beautifully illustrated in the present work, which is characterized by a revelatory directness: the vigor of the rich, broad paint strokes reveal their application and the brushwork conjures the palpable emotions between Auerbach and his wife.

In this marriage of sentiment between artist and muse, the closest art historical parallel to Auerbach is Willem de Kooning, another hero of twentieth-century art collected by Gerald L. Lennard. The self-evident emotional investment of the artist, as well as their shared desire to collapse the barriers between figuration and abstraction, ties Auerbach inextricably to the Abstract Expressionist master. The heavily worked surface of butter-like paint creates a thick and rich facture across which Julia comes to life. Emerging from the caliginous background, the visage of Julia takes shape in brushstrokes of olive green, ochre, umber and charcoal. Daubs of yellow and black articulate the contours of Julia’s face in crags of luscious impasto, the physicality of which comes to the fore against the more subdued background. Flecks of orange, pink, and blue enliven the dominant yellows and browns of the artist's palette. These stylistic decisions testify to the artist's "unique way of making and marking down reality in a visual way" and pay homage to the masters that preceded him, which, as Norman Rosenthal comments, "is all that visual art of any direction can hope to do." (Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, p. 23)