Frank Auerbach - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 7, 2024 | Phillips

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  • “She was brought into the world to be a model, she came and sat and it was not quite like anything else.”
    —Frank Auerbach on Juliet Yardley Mills

    A work of incredible vitality and power, J.Y.M. Seated in the Studio II is the largest in a suite of eight paintings sharing the same title and numbered accordingly created by German-British artist Frank Auerbach between 1987 and 1988. While the other seven paintings of this series are held in private collections, several examples featuring the model are housed in major institutional collections around the world, including the Tate Collection in London, the Museo Rufino Tamaya in Mexico City, and Portland Museum of Art. Coming to auction for the first time, the present work brings to mind art critic David Sylvester's memorable description at the outset of Auerbach's career that ‘Paint laid on with quite outrageous prodigality can be not only seductive but most subtly and mysteriously alive’, both terms that capture the impact and essence of J. Y. M. Seated in the Studio II.i

     

    A figurative painter who came to prominence in the post-war era alongside such contemporaries as Leon Kossoff, Lucien Freud, and Francis Bacon, Auerbach was considered part of the ‘School of London’, a term coined by fellow painter R.B. Kitaj. By 1988, Auerbach was already an established name in the London art world. Ten years previously he had had his first retrospective, at the Hayward Gallery in London, followed by a series of exhibitions and accolades, notably his inclusion in the pivotal 1981 group exhibition A New Spirit in Painting at the Royal Academy in London; a major international exhibition hosted by the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, in Madrid, and the Kunstverein in Hamburg in 1984-85; and his selection to represent Britain at the XLII Venice Biennale in 1986, for which he was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion prize jointly with German artist Sigmar Polke.

     

    Frank Auerbach. Image: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo 

    Early in his career, Auerbach - who never truly diverged from figuration - would paint over his canvas multiple times after the paint had dried, a long and laboured process resulting in heavy and tactile impasto allowing the artist to draw out the sculptural possibilities of paint in his finished surfaces which extended well beyond the base of the canvas. Later, as in J.Y.M. Seated in the Studio II, he would scrape away at the canvas at the end of each sitting before beginning the process again, explaining ‘I repaint the pictures again and again and again […] I think there’s an underlying secret structure to things and I’m trying to get to it, I’m trying to burrow towards it.’ii

     

    A visual record of the artistic process itself, and of Auerbach’s determination not to leave a painting until it had achieved a independent life of its own, the initial image is thus lost, retrieved, and restored in the finished painting. The accumulation of everything that is left behind, Auerbach’s painterly process in these later years poetically recalls the words of American novelist Ernest Hemingway whereby ‘if a man has something once, always something of it remains.’iii

    Artist and Model

     

    In J.Y.M. Seated in the Studio II, Auerbach’s process of painting, scraping away, and painting over endows the work with a striking, sculptural presence as areas of rich impasto sit alongside passages of more rigid flatness in densely textural layers, a juxtaposition heightened by its more measured use. The subject of the painting, ‘J.Y.M.’, or Juliet Yardley Mills, is among the handful of people to have sat regularly for Auerbach over many years, and one of only three principal models employed by the artist over the course of his career. The two first met whilst the former was a model at Sidcup School of Art in the 1950s. A considered and committed sitter, in the 1960s Mills began to pose for Auerbach every Wednesday and Sunday, an arrangement that would last for more than 30 years following his first depiction of her in his 1963 J. Y. M. in the Studio, I. As a professional model, her ability to adopt and hold many different poses meant that the painter was able to achieve great variation and intensity in his depictions of Mills over this period.

     

    In what proved to be a rich and rewarding collaboration, Auerbach painted Mills some 134 times, a testament not only to her incredible resilience as a model, but to the depth and sensitivity of Auerbach’s vision and his understanding that, in poet W. H. Auden’s words ‘We never look at two people / or one person twice / in the same way.’iv As in the artist’s remarkably varied depictions of the immediate surroundings of his Mornington Crescent studio, it is through his long intimacy with Mills that Auerbach approaches a greater psychological intensity and artistic truth with regards to his subject. As the artist recently explained in a rare interview, ‘if I know something well, I notice specific relationships […] the more specific it is in my mind, obviously the more specific it will be on the canvas. So I tend to paint things that I’m close to.’v Beyond her steadfast dependence, Mills also shared a deep, platonic intimacy with Auerbach, so much so that the two referred to each other as ‘Jimmy’ and ‘Frankie’. She later said of their relationship ‘I thought the world of him and he was very fond of me. There was no sort of romance but we were close. Real friends.’vi

     

    [Left] Frank Auerbach, J.Y.M. in the Studio, 1963-1964, Arts Council Collection. Image: © Arts Council Collection / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: The artist, courtesy Frankie Rossi Art Projects
     [Middle] Frank Auerbach, J.Y.M. Seated IV, 1992, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Artwork: The artist, courtesy Frankie Rossi Art Projects
    [Right] Frank Auerbach, J.Y.M. Seated, 1979, Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City. Artwork: The artist, courtesy Frankie Rossi Art Projects

     

    In J.Y.M. Seated in the Studio II, the model occupies the centre right of the composition, her forearms raised, and torso turned slightly toward the viewer in a particularly difficult and dynamic pose that animates the composition with an almost combative vitality. Echoing the angular arrangement of her arms, her legs are realised in gestural, zig-zag brush marks, seemingly crouched in front of a small pedestal paraffin heater, immediately evocative of the drafty studio setting where the work would have been executed. As is characteristic of Auerbach’s psychologically intense portraits, her facial features are difficult to discern at a first glance, demanding a deeper and slower mode of looking in order to more fully appreciate the atmosphere of the piece, and the heft and seriousness with which the artist imbued it over the many months of its completion.

     

    Auerbach’s use of colour here is considered and enticing. There is a delicate balance between the grounded, earthy hues which underpin the picture and the direct swathes of colour which interrupt them. The use of red is immediately striking – central, both in its placement in the composition, and in the compelling effect it has. Appearing to emanate from the centre of the canvas and the energetic sitter herself it anchors and counterpoints the more dynamic elements of the composition. The shade is neither the intense Cardinal hue of Antonio Barberini, nor the elegiac red of the wartime poppy, but a visceral, bodily vermilion - human and natural, earth-based if not earthy. As Leon Kossoff, close friend and contemporary of Auerbach’s has said of the latter’s paintings: ‘Out of darkness, drawn from unknown areas of the self, the landscapes, the heads and the nudes remain with us gleaming in the mind – a gleam of light and warmth and life.’vii

     

     

     Artist Frank Auerbach talks about his life and some of the influences on his work for Radio 4’s ‘This Cultural Life’, 27 January, 2024.

     

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    • Frank Auerbach is a Modern British painter of figurative works. His paintings are thickly textured and tactile, imbued with both invention and impasto.

     

    • J.Y.M. Seated in the Studio II is the largest of a series of 8 works, all numbered between I and VI, and all completed between 1987 and 1988. All 8 of these works are held in private collections. 

     

    • Auerbach is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in London, Frank Auerbach: The Charcoal Heads, which runs until 27 May. There have recently also been exhibitions of Auerbach’s work at: Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, London, in 2023; Piano Nobile, London, in 2022; and Newlands House Gallery, Sussex, in 2022.

     

    • His works are held in the permanent collections of the Tate in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, among many others. 

     

    i David Sylvester, ‘Young English Painting’, The Listener, 12 August 1954. 

    ii Frank Auerbach, ‘Interview: Frank Auerbach’, Prospect Magazine, 19 July 2012.

    iii Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls, New York, 1940.

    iv W. H. Auden, I am not a Camera, London, 1969.

    v Frank Auerbach in conversation with John Wilson, ‘This Cultural Life’, BBC Radio 4, 27 January, 2024, online.  

    vi Juliet Yardley Mills, as quoted by Catherine Lampert, Frank Auerbach; Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, London, 2001, p. 26-27.

    vii Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1978.

    • Provenance

      Marlborough Fine Art, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner on 5 October 1988

    • Literature

      Frank Auerbach: Recent Work, exh. cat., Marlborough Fine Art, London, 1990, p. 34 (illustrated)
      William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York, 2009, no. 598, p. 307 (illustrated in colour)
      William Feaver, Frank Auerbach: Revised and Expanded Edition, New York, 2022, no. 598, p. 349 (illustrated in colour)

Property of a Distinguished Private London Collector

7

J.Y.M. Seated in the Studio II

oil on canvas
71.7 x 81.9 cm (28 1/4 x 32 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1987-1988.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for £635,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060
rwiden@phillips.com

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
othornton@phillips.com

 

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2024