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Frank Auerbach's Portrait of Debbie Ratclff III comes to Bonhams
Frank Auerbach (B. 1931), Portrait of Debbie Ratcliff III, 1984. Estimate: £450,000-650,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A portrait by the artist Frank Auerbach depicting the sitter Debbie Ratcliff, which was first exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1986 – and which has been in the same private collection since 1984 – leads Bonhams’ Post-War & Contemporary Art sale on Thursday 24 March in London. The work, entitled Portrait of Debbie Ratcliff III, has never before been offered at auction, and has an estimate of £450,000 - 650,000.

Ralph Taylor, Bonhams Global Head of Post-War & Contemporary Art, commented: “Portrait of Debbie Ratcliff III stems from one of Auerbach’s most celebrated periods. It was first exhibited at the 1986 Venice Biennale – the year Auerbach shared the International Prize/ Golden Lion with Sigmar Polke – and has never before been offered at auction. For Auerbach, his sitters have been a constant subject of engagement and experimentation, and this is one of three portrait variations of Debbie Ratcliff exhibited at the 42nd Biennale. With the intensity of the brushstrokes, bold use of colour, and striking composition, this is quite simply one of the finest Auerbach works to come auction in recent years."

Frank Auerbach (1931-)

A German-born émigré artist, based in London, Frank Auerbach arrived in Britain as a refugee in 1939 at the age of eight, and came of age in the war-torn London of the 1950s alongside Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Leon Kossoff. Together they would become known as the "School of London", a term used by R.B. Kitaj in 1976 to describe the British artists he particularly admired.

Auerbach remains one of the most prolific and collectible artists currently working. Rarely leaving Britain, he lives and works in London, and has had the same studio since the 1950s. His work is held in museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Auerbach first met the Australian life-model and writer Debbie Ratcliff while at the Slade in 1983, and – drawn to her ‘angular features’ – asked her to sit for him. Ratcliff has spoken about the intensity of Auerbach’s practice, describing how he “attacked’ the canvas” – noting “paint was obviously being sloshed about, then scraped and blotted with paper.” The pair would later become friends – with Ratcliff considered to be one of his great muses, alongside Estella West and Juliet Yardley Mills.

Another highlight of the sale is Fruits by Yayoi Kusama, which has an estimate of £300,000-500,000. Fruits follows Yayoi Kusama’s fundamental concept of ‘Infinity Nets’ which arose in the 1950s, with the multiplex addition of her iconic dots and symbols. Through her use of these two core forms, nets and dots, Kusama creates an illusion of infinite repetition and multiplication. As evidenced by her creations in the 1970s, fruit baskets have served as a recurring subject in her art. Fruits is fresh to the market, having never been offered at auction before.

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