Head of E.O.W. III oil on board 31.7 x 30.5 cm. (12 1/2 x 12 in.) Painted in 1961
PROVENANCE: With Beaux Arts Gallery, London, February - March 1962 (probably as no.3), where purchased by the present owner's parents Thence by descent
EXHIBITED: London, Hayward Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain, Frank Auerbach, 4 May - 2 July 1978, no.35: this exhibition travelled to Edinburgh, Fruit Market Gallery, 15 July - 12 August 1978
LITERATURE: William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, Rizzoli, New York, 2009, no.106, p.249 (col.ill.)
The relationship between the artist and sitter in the present painting was deep rooted and intimate. It can be traced back to 1948, when Auerbach was still a teenager. Estella West, known throughout Auerbach's oeuvre as E.O.W, rented her basement flat out in Earl's Court Road to the young artist. During the immediate period after World War II and prior to Auerbach establishing himself fully as a painter, he was involved with the left-wing Unity Theatre. A product of the Worker's Theatre Movement it was formed in the East End of London to challenge, among other things, Nazism in Germany. It was here Both Estella and Auerbach appeared in Frank Marcus's production of Peter Ustinov's House of Regrets, but they only met formally at an after show party. Although Estella was considerably older, in her early thirties at the time and widowed with three children, once Auerbach moved in as a lodger they soon became lovers.
William Feaver comments, 'Their relationship was to last over twenty five years and involve more than seventy paintings, in the titles of which she is identified as E.O.W. She thought him "a beautiful, mature young man; he had a kitchen chair and he'd be kneeling, painting on his knees. I used to think, why am I doing this [sitting for him] with three children and a demanding job? I just loved him.' (William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, Rizzoli, New York, 2009, p.9).
At the time Head of E.O.W III was painted and, owing to financial restrictions, his works of the early 1960s were predominantly monochrome, often using a palette in keeping with the present lot: whites, greys and black. This painting was amongst the group of works shown at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1962 which were begun in colour and ended up in monochrome (Catherine Lampert, Auerbach and his Sitters, Frank Auerbach, Royal Academy, London, 2001, p.25). The sitter is usually positioned off centre, invariably to the right, and the paint surface of the faces is built up layer upon layer to such an extent that they take on a sculptural quality quite separate to the flatter backgrounds. The formal structure of Head of E.O.W III, such as the distinctive angular outlines of the head and body most striking in the bold white zigzag of pigment used to denote the sitter's hair, was similar to that employed by the Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) in his work dating from the 1950s.
As Robert Hughes states, 'In sum, Auerbach found himself admiring in de Kooning what he admired in Soutine the sort of draughtsmanship which is deeply painted, bathes shapes in air and carries the eye around the back of the form, rather than leaving it with the contours and colour of a flat patch. If any American artist of the 50s seemed to Auerbach to have matched the terms of Bomberg's 'spirit in the mass', that person was de Kooning. The example of Abstract Expressionist gesture did not wreak a sudden change in Auerbach's work, as it did in other English painters like Peter Lanyon and Alan Davie at the end of the 50s, boosting them out of their Cubist framework. Instead it was slowly and cautiously absorbed, slowed down by the thickness of Auerbach's surface, which it energized in terms of vectors pushed through the paint directional brushstrokes which wiped aside the clutter of pentimenti under the paint-skin.' (Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, pp.149-150).
We are grateful to Catherine Lampert for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.