E.O.W., Nude on Bed oil on canvas 77.5 x 61 cm. (30 1/2 x 24 in.) Painted in 1959
PROVENANCE: Jean Outland Chrysler Chrysler Museum, Provincetown, Massachusetts & Norfolk, Virginia Gifted by Jean Outland Chrysler to the present owner
EXHIBITED: London, Beaux Arts Gallery, Frank Auerbach, November - December 1959, no.3, where lent by the Chrysler Art Museum of Provincetown (as E.O.W. lying on her bed, III)
LITERATURE: Arts Council of Great Britain, Frank Auerbach, Westerham Press Limited, 1978, no.26, pp.47 & 83 (ill.b&w) Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, Thames & Hudson, 2000 edition, London, no.108, p.148 (ill.b&w) William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, Rizzoli, New York, 2009, cat.no.68, p.243 (col.ill)
This intensely compelling oil on canvas by Frank Auerbach is presented at auction for the very first time. Originally belonging to Jean Outland Chrysler, wife of the scion of the automotive company founder Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., the work was gifted by her to the present owner. The library at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia (U.S.A.), bears her name as she played a leading role in its formation and creation. Containing over 106,000 rare and unique volumes, many pertaining to the subject of history of art, it is still considered among the most impressive libraries in North America. Her husband was a prolific and well informed collector who, in the 1970s, donated almost 10,000 objects to the Norfolk Academy of Arts and Sciences, upon which it became known as the Chrysler Museum. This donation still ranks as one of the most generous, diverse and important gifts ever made in American history to a single museum by an individual.
Presented on a stark white mattress, E.O.W.'s knees are drawn into her torso with the arms tucked in underneath them. She appears particularly exposed and somewhat vulnerable, with the absence of sheets on the bed to conceal her naked body, and positioned in the centre of the composition facing the spectator. Her gaze is lowered, towards the bed, suggesting she is reluctant to engage with either the artist or observer. The model, Stella West, whose name is shortened to E.O.W. throughout Auerbach's career, was among the first sitter's for the artist, appearing as early as 1952. She was an aspiring theatre actress at the Communist Unity Theatre in Camden, North London, where both she and Auerbach appeared in Frank Marcus's production of Peter Ustinov's House of Regrets. The two first met at Stella's home on Earl's Court Road where the cast would practice and where later Auerbach would rent a room and become her lover.
William Feaver explains:
'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)
Commenting on this deep rooted and, in the case of the present lot, intimate relationship enjoyed with his life models, Auerbach states:
'I think life drawing from the body of a stranger is a fine thing in an art school, but there's a real reason for recording someone whom one's close to. For one thing one knows exactly whether it's 'like' or not. For another, if the person has wakened one's mind, one knows what's not worthy of her, so one isn't going to pull any funny little tricks. Besides, if you're working with someone with whom you are involved, she may get fed up; you might quarrel; she may find it an intolerable burden and punish you by not sitting for you. The whole thing's got a totally different sort of tension from the simple transaction with a hired model.' (Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, p.133)
Painted during the final year of the 1950s the work can be considered among the artist's early masterpieces, and is the most fully realised oil of the five painted in 1959 depicting E.O.W. lying full length on her bed. The 1958 painting immediately preceding it in the catalogue of the artist's work, Nude Study (cat.no. 67, Private collection, U.K.), shows us the first stage of development of this tightknit body of pictures, which proved instrumental in bringing about a change within the artist's palette. Painted on a rather rustic piece of board the model in the study lies in exactly the same position as the present lot, whereas in others she has been rotated and appears even more exposed. There is also a charcoal and chalk on paper from the same series, where the model lies on her front, which belongs in the collection of the British Museum.
Some of the influence for Auerbach's lying down nudes can be found in the work of the British Impressionist Walter Richard Sickert, A.R.A. (1860-1942). In the past he has described Sickert as, 'the one painter of real world stature who worked in England in the early part of this century', and he is known to have studied Sickert's critical essays, A Free House (1947), commenting:
'When I find myself very tired of an afternoon I sometimes pick that book up and go to a page and read it, and I find it works for me I just want to go on working. It's a matter of the man's all-round worth.' (op.cit. p.88)
If we compare the present lot with Sickert's classic, Camden Town interior, The Iron Bedstead, painted circa 1909 (see fig.1) (The Earl and Countess of Harewood Collection), we begin to understand how the subject of E.O.W., Nude on Bed manifests. The models in both canvases rest in a most austere surrounding, a chair in one, a chest of drawers with lamp in the other, and both are self-consciously aware of their nakedness.
The paint surface in E.O.W., Nude on Bed is expertly built up over the various passages of the composition to create a highly successful multi-layered picture plane. It begins on the lower third with scraped back paint, almost to the canvas, above which a more substantial layer of white is introduced denoting the mattress, and culminates in the wonderfully thick and encrusted ochres and oranges of the life form with its fragile peaks and deep troughs creating a truly impressive and sculptural image.