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)
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