Portrait of J.Y.M. Seated oil on board 40.6 x 33 cm. (16 x 13 in.) Painted in 1976
Provenance: With Marlborough Fine Art, London With LA Louver, Venice, California Collection of Monica Bain, Los Angeles, California
Exhibited: London, Arts Council of Great Britain, Hayward Gallery, Frank Auerbach, 4 May - 2 July, 1978, cat.no.130: this exhibition travelled to Edinburgh, Fruit Market Gallery, 15 July - 12 August, 1978 Venice, California, LA Louver, This Knot of Life: Part II, November 27-December 22, 1979
LITERATURE: Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, p.205, no.209 (ill.b&w) William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, Rizzoli, New York, 2009, p.278, no.369 (ill.col)
Auerbach first met Juliet Yardley Mills when she was working as a professional model in the late 1950s at the Sidcup School of Art. She was depicted with such regularity and persistence through the following four decades that Juliet became one of the most frequently rendered figures in portraiture of the post-war era. Indeed, perhaps no other individual has been scrutinized by an artist so closely, over such a prolonged period, as 'J.Y.M.' Her name, however, does not appear in the titles of his paintings until 1963, J.Y.M. in the Studio I (Private collection) (see fig.1) being the first such instance. The final chapter of this relationship appeared in Auerbach's Head of J.Y.M. III (Private collection), painted in 1997. This dedication to his subjects, becoming as intimately involved with them as possible, was one the artist had absorbed from his teacher David Bomberg during his earlier student days at the London Borough Polytechnic in the late 40s and early 1950s. Considering his unrelenting commitment to portraiture there have been relatively few sitters for Auerbach over the last half century and only two other models, Estella West (known as E.O.W. in the titles) and his wife Julia, are presented to us in abundance.
The differences between the oils featuring E.O.W, predominantly from the 1950s and 1960s, and those of J.Y.M. from the mid 1970s onwards are quite pronounced in their handling of paint. The earlier works still showed strong hints of Bomberg's technique of the 1930s, where layers upon layers of paint were laboriously built up over a period of time, resulting in a density of surface quite unlike anything else in British art at that time, save works by Auerbach's close friend Leon Kossoff. When the artist and his model Estella parted company in 1973, over a trip Auerbach made to Italy without her, a noticeably more fluid approach to his painting was ushered in, and J.Y.M. was the primary vehicle which enabled it to be expressed. Only three years later Portrait of J.Y.M. Seated was made.
In the present lot, which has never previously been offered at auction, and others from the same period, Auerbach's eagerness to speed the process of his work up is apparent. Long, broad, horizontal and diagonal brushstrokes are applied with spontaneity, devoid from his representations of E.O.W. In them Robert Hughes draws intelligent comparisons to paintings by the Old Masters Auerbach studied:
'Just as, in drawing, Auerbach's branching line contains overt semi-conscious references to those sudden hooks of the ink-laden nib which were one of the most often imitated aspects of Rembrandt's drawing style, so in painting the embedded bars of pigment left by the broad square brush are deeply influenced by Rembrandt's habit of modelling in explicit facets, each a daub of pigment squarely turned towards the eye. The structure of Rembrandts like Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels, which Auerbach often drew in the National Gallery, finds its way into his own half-length portraits; the long leaning rectangles of her robe, building and driving into a diagonal movement that runs from lower right to upper left of the trapezoidal block of her figure, are metabolized into the long strokes that summarize the arms and toros of such paintings as Portrait of J.Y.M. Seated, 1976 [the present lot] (Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, Thames & Hudson, London, 1990, p.204).
By the time Auerbach was documenting J.Y.M. the full frontal portrait, half-length and seated, arguably the most challenging of all portrait work, was his preferred viewpoint. The sitter's features have nowhere to hide unlike a profile or reclining head. They confront the spectator head on and presence and character become all the more crucial to convey. The artist achieves this with mesmerising success in Portrait of J.Y.M. Seated, despite the model taking on an abstract quality; her facial features such as her mouth, ears and eyes are almost singular strokes or daubes of the brush. Using an upbeat palette of his signature greens and yellows the model is presented to us here for the first time erect, with relaxed arms and hands clasped, in a posture which was to be explored further and on a larger scale in the late 1970s and early 80s, such as J.Y.M. Seated I from 1981, now in the collection of the Tate Gallery.