'There's a phrase by Robert Frost about his own verse, I don't know what it means about verse, and I really barely comprehend what it suggests about painting, but it seems to me to be absolutely true. He said, 'I want the poem to be like ice on a stove - riding on its own melting.' Well, a great painting is like ice on a stove. It is a shape riding on its own melting into matter and space, it never stops moving backwards and forwards.' 
Head of J.Y.M., 1974 is one of Auerbach's most magnificent head studies, in which heavily laden brushstrokes have left behind areas of thick impasto - peaks of paint that rise and trail across the surface. This beautiful painted surface is a direct result of Auerbach's working method. He does not typically begin a painting with under-painting or an outline sketch, instead he works immediately in oils, referring directly to the model in front of him. If a painting is not finished to Auerbach's liking by the end of the day, he scrapes back the entire surface to start again at the next appointed sitting. As such, the 'ghosts' of previous sessions remain visible on the surface. But each time Auerbach returns to his chosen subject he paints them with a little more understanding and a gradually more focused intention, until finally, a last, definitive image emerges in one day - its freshness reflected in the glistening viscosity of the oil paint.
Here J.Y.M.'s head is tilted back and facing slightly to one side, resting against the back of a chair, a dynamic, and most likely quite uncomfortable pose, Auerbach frequently placed her in. At this grand scale, Auerbach has room to include the chair behind and hints of other background details, although the focus of the image is almost entirely on the physiognomy of the face. Auerbach uses thick black lines to describe J.Y.M.'s features, her forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, cheekbones and chin. These dark diagonals, typical of the period, define her face, pinning down her likeness within a network of energetic gestural marks.
In 1956 Julia Yardley Mills (J.Y.M.) a professional model, met Frank Auerbach at Sidcup College of Art and, at her suggestion, she began to pose privately for him. She is one of Auerbach's most important muses, visting Auerbach's Camden studio, every Wednesday and Sunday until 1997, she became the subject of at least 27 drawings and 189 oils. Catherine Lampert notes the closeness of the relationship between Auerbach and J.Y.M. as they called one another, Jimmie and Frankie: 'Often she [J.Y.M.] would sense that Auerbach was depressed, his posture more bent over as he began. She realised that 'after he stops, he is working in his brain … we had a wonderful relationship because 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' 
1 In conversation with Frank Auerbach, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1978, p20 2 Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, London, Royal Academy, 2001, pp26-7
Marlborough Fine Art, London Private Collection, UK
Offer Waterman, London, 2005
Private Collection, UK
London, Mall Galleries, Contemporary Art Society Art Fair, 14 - 23 January 1974 Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, European Painting in the Seventies: New Work by Sixteen Artists, , 30 September - 23 November 1975, cat no.22 illus colour, touring to: St Louis Art Museum, 16 March - 9 May 1976 Madison, University of Wisconsin, Elvehjem Art Center, 8 June - 1 August 1976 London, Hayward Gallery, 1977 Hayward Annual, Part One, 25 May - 4 July 1977, cat no.1 London, Hayward Gallery, Frank Auerbach, Arts Council, 4 May - 2 July 1978, cat no.119 illus b/w, touring to: Edinburgh, Fruit Market Gallery, 15 July - 12 August 1978
Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, cat no.206, illus b/w, p204 William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, Rizzoli, New York, cat no.336, illus colour
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