Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931) Head of J.Y.M. 1992
Lot 40AR
Frank Auerbach
(British, born 1931)
Head of J.Y.M.
Sold for £ 374,500 (US$ 496,157) inc. premium

Lot Details
Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931)
Head of J.Y.M.

oil on board

60 by 50.8 cm.
23 5/8 by 20 in.

This work was executed in 1992.


  • Provenance
    Marlborough Gallery, London
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1993

    Saragossa, Palacio de la Lonja, Después de Goya: una mirada subjetiva, 1996-1997, no. 199, illustrated in colour

    William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 319, no. 706, illustrated in colour

    Despite six decades in the limelight, and world renown as one of the greatest British painters of the 20th Century, Frank Auerbach remains something of an enigma. He famously lives a simple, almost ascetic life, most of it revolving around his studio in London's Camden Town, the studio where he has lived and worked since 1954. Not for him the glitz of the art world, the parties and the private views. Aged 83, he still paints seven days a week and takes only one day off a year. His weekly trips to the National Gallery, where he spends time amongst his beloved old masters, are the only major outing from the small world that he inhabits. With a solo retrospective at the Tate planned for 2015, Auerbach's profile has never been higher, and yet he still prefers to keep himself to himself. "I resent having to see anybody apart from my sitters, anybody at all," he said in a recent, one assumes rather reluctant, interview.
    Auerbach arrived in England in 1939, a refugee from the horrors of Nazi Germany. As a young student he excelled in both painting and acting, but it was art which was to ultimately exert the stronger pull. As a result, he took himself to the St Martin's School of Art in 1948, later studying at the Royal College of Art from 1952 to 1955. His extra-curricular classes at the Borough Polytechnic were also important in the development of his unique style; it was here that he studied under David Bomberg, and worked alongside his contemporary and close friend, Leon Kossoff.

    Auerbach's first solo show took place at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1956. His early paintings, often monochrome and always dramatically textured, displayed an understanding of both art historical traditions and radical recent developments. The Study after 'Deposition' by Rembrandt II of 1961, for example, starkly reworks one of the artist's favourite paintings in the National Gallery, its grey linear forms owing as much to the 20th Century School of Paris as the Dutch Golden Age. Rembrandt was to prove an important influence on the young Auerbach, and it is impossible to study the loose brushwork and the warm ochre and russet tones of Head of J.Y.M., 1992 without thinking of the later portraits by the Dutch master. But while Auerbach's work may be strongly rooted in the past, it is his modernity that is most striking. He has expressed an admiration for the work of American abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning, another artist whose free use of paint has proved widely influential and who, like Auerbach himself, has effectively blurred the boundaries between figuration and abstraction. It is this masterly fusion of ancient and modern that makes Auerbach's oeuvre so timeless, and so powerful.

    While he has continually kept a close eye on current developments in painting, Auerbach's own approach is distinct and unmistakable. He has often been placed in the canon alongside his close contemporaries Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, although he himself refutes the existence of any notional 'London School'. Instead, Auerbach has ploughed his own furrow; experimenting and challenging both himself and his audience, constantly testing the limits of oil paint to produce a style which is all his own.

    Auerbach has worked with a limited group of models, most of whom have sat for him throughout his career. Juliet Yardley Mills, the subject of the present lot, was a professional model who began working for him in 1956. Her athletic intensity, in particular the characteristic tossing of her head demonstrated here in Head of J.Y.M., has been widely noted, and the two formed a close bond. It was only ill health that ended their regular twice-weekly sittings at Auerbach's simple studio in North London. It was a difficult break to make, the meetings becoming an important part of her life: "I still wake up every Sunday morning at 4.30 and think, "Oh, good, I have got to get ready for Frank," and then remember that I don't anymore. That is very sad. I miss it dreadfully," she told an interviewer not long before her death in 2001. (quoted by Hannah Rothschild on, 30th September 2013). In this stunning portrait of Yardley Mills, Auerbach captures not just a physical likeness of the face he knew so well, as is always his intention, but also the unique energy of the subject, the vitality of a moment.

    Although he does make use of preparatory sketches, when it comes to painting on board or canvas Auerbach does not pursue underpainting or outline sketches. He tackles the composition head on, building up the layers of paint, sculpting the thick impasto into those distinctive deep valleys and thin, delicate peaks, often scraping down the surface and beginning again from scratch if dissatisfied with the results. Sitters have described the drama of his technique, the rushes and stabs of his paint-loaded brush, the artist quietly talking to himself as he ceaselessly works. The results of this vibrant, almost theatrical performance are vividly displayed in Head of J.Y.M., 1992. Once he feels that a painting is complete, he hides it away in a box for weeks before returning to it again, sizing up the work to see if it meets his high standards. Only the best get through this strict vetting process, with a tiny percentage of Auerbach's paintings completing the journey from easel to gallery wall, as this striking example demonstrates.
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Wine, Coins & Medals and Motor Cars and Motorcycles:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% on the first £175,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from £175,001 to £3,000,000 the Hammer Price
12.5% from £3,000,001 of the Hammer Price

VAT at the current rate of 20% will be added to the Buyer's Premium and charges excluding Artists Resale Right.

Payment Notices

For payment information please refer to the sale catalogue.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

Lot symbols
AR Artists Resale Right

Goods subject to Artists Resale Right Additional Premium.

  1. Customer Services (UK)
    Customer services
    Work +44 20 7447 7447
    FaxFax: +44 20 7447 7401
  2. Contemporary Art
    General enquiries
    Work +44 20 7468 5878
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 5883
  3. Shipping (UK)
    Logistics - Shipping
    Work +44 20 7468 8302
    FaxFax: + 44 20 7629 9673
Similar Items