Reclining Head of Julia, 2006
Oil on board
18 1/8 x 18 1/8 in, 46 x 46 cm
'Reclining Head of Julia', painted in Auerbach’s expressive, layered style represents the artist’s wife, Julia Wolstenholme. It is characteristic of his psychologically charged portraits, in which he laboriously paints and...
'Reclining Head of Julia', painted in Auerbach’s expressive, layered style represents the artist’s wife, Julia Wolstenholme. It is characteristic of his psychologically charged portraits, in which he laboriously paints and repaints only a select group of favoured sitters with real intimacy: "I tend to try to paint things with which I have a great familiarity, partly because they mean more to me than anybody else".
As a key member of the School of London, alongside Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, RB Kitaj, Michael Andrews and Francis Bacon, Auerbach initiated the re-birth of British figurative art during the 1960s and 70s. At a time when Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Conceptual Art were calling for the end of easel painting, Auerbach explored the human form and revitalised portraiture with the distinctive expressionist manner, evident here.
Auerbach has used just three principal models throughout his career. One, his wife Julia, first posed for him in 1959. The couple had met and married in 1958 whilst they were both students at the Royal College of Art. Although Julia was the subject of early charcoal drawings by Auerbach, an affair with his model Stella West meant that it was not until 1976 that she again became a regular model, sitting for drawings and paintings such as this, in which Auerbach always focuses on the form of her head.
Although in his paintings of Julia, Auerbach returns to the same features he is perpetually seeing her in new ways: "To paint the same head over and over leads to unfamiliarity; eventually you get near the raw truth about it, just as people only blurt out the raw truth in the middle of a family quarrel”. Like the earlier 'Portrait of Julia', 1992, which belongs to the National Gallery, Scotland, he builds the character of his sitter into the work’s thick, impastoed surface. Discussing Auerbach’s powerful psychological depiction of people, the writer and historian William Feaver has noted: “Auerbach's heads are conceived not as busts or cameos but as presences”.
Marlborough Fine Art, London (stock no. 309430)
Private Collection, London
Feaver, W., Frank Auerbach, Rizzoli, New York, 2009, p. 345, plate. 933