Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931) Reclining Head of E.O.W. II 1969

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Lot 6AR
Frank Auerbach
(British, born 1931)
Reclining Head of E.O.W. II
Sold for £ 368,750 (US$ 485,255) inc. premium

Lot Details
Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931) Reclining Head of E.O.W. II 1969
Frank Auerbach (British, born 1931)
Reclining Head of E.O.W. II

oil on board

25 by 29.8 cm.
9 13/16 by 11 3/4 in.

This work was executed in 1969.


  • Provenance
    Marlborough Fine Art, London
    Lucian Freud Collection, London (acquired directly from the above in 1971)
    Anthony d'Offay Ltd, London
    Acquired directly from the above by the previous owner in 1978
    Thence by descent to the present owner

    New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Frank Auerbach, 1969, no. 45 (titled Reclining Head of E.O.W.)
    London, Marlborough Fine Art, Frank Auerbach, 1971, no. 27 (titled Reclining Head of E.O.W.)
    London, Anthony d'Offay Ltd, Frank Auerbach, 1978

    William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 266, no. 257, illustrated in black and white

    As well as being recognised as one of the greatest British painters of the Twentieth Century, Frank Auerbach is also an 'artist's artist'. It was Francis Bacon who apparently first introduced him to many of the other members of what came to be known as the School of London including Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Howard Hodgkin. Auerbach became close friends with Freud, a relationship that could be described as pivotal to the life and career of both artists. Each held the other's work in high regard and such was Freud's admiration for his friend's paintings that he amassed what was now regarded as one of the greatest private collections of Auerbach works, including the present work, Reclining Head of E.O.W. II from 1969.

    Following Freud's death in 2011 the collection was exhibited at the Manchester Art Gallery, and later at Tate Britain's retrospective of Frank Auerbach's work, before being bequeathed to the nation. Over 44 of the artist's career-spanning paintings and works on paper were distributed amongst a number of UK museums settling in permanent collections as far afield as London, Aberdeen and Belfast. Very few works from this most distinguished of collections now remain in private hands making this a rare opportunity to acquire a work with such important provenance.

    Reclining Head of E.O.W. II from 1969 is archetypal Auerbach. With its heavy impasto, thick dashes of oil paint coaxed into the most unexpected and exhilarating forms, the painting expresses the very lively, instinctive sense of spontaneity for which the artist was known: "I never visualise a picture before I start... I have an impulse and I try to find a form for that impulse" (the artist in: Catherine Lampert, Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting, London 2015, p. 176). Auerbach's deft handling of the medium is key to the success of the composition; the diagonal swathes of warm, yellow paint contrasting sharply with the thickly applied umbral background, a sharp block of light bursting forth from the top corner, and the slightest dashes of vivid red forming the merest suggestion of a wine glass. We are left with a wonderfully subtle portrait that belies the sheer expanse of paint layered so expressionistically across its surface.

    Here the sitter's head, neck and bare shoulders form the core of the lower picture plane presented in close-up in a highly tender and personalised fashion as if we are bearing witness to an intimate moment indelibly captured amongst the turmoil of the paint. The subject matter is familiar to us, being one which Auerbach was to return to again and again between the 1950s and the early 1970s. This is his lover Estella Olive West, better known simply as Stella, who is always referred to as 'E.O.W.' in the titles of his portraits of her. Yet Stella is not presented in the objectified manner of the traditional muse, she is so much more and like all his sitters, Auerbach, through his intense observational capacity has captured her very essence in the roiling energy of the oil.

    The pair first met when the seventeen-year-old Auerbach rented a room from Stella, fifteen years his senior. The passionate relationship which ensued was to last around fifteen years, ultimately causing a long rupture in Auerbach's marriage whilst resulting in some of the artist's most potent works. These works' importance in the context of Auerbach's oeuvre, as well as the sitter's profound impact on the artist's private life, means that portraits of Stella are amongst his most sought after paintings. Whilst Auerbach painted Stella frequently, a comparison between these portraits demonstrates Auerbach's versatility; his works are remarkably fresh and vivid, where in lesser hands they might appear staid and repetitive.

    Appearing at auction for the first time, Reclining Head of E.O.W. II is therefore significant on many fronts. Not only is this a rare opportunity to acquire a work with the illustrious Freud provenance, it is both an exquisite painting depicting one of Auerbach's most important sitters and a visual manifestation of the artist's mastery of the medium.
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  1. Amy Thompson
    Specialist - Contemporary Art
    Work Chicago, United States
    Work T: +1 872 400 6314
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