Like all of Auerbach's pictorial drawings, this self-portrait was created over several weeks, with the artist drawing one picture per session. If it does not stand up to critical scrutiny during the next session, it is discarded and erased. Auerbach then begins again on the same sheet of paper. With rapid, powerfully applied strokes, the artist shows himself here, his mouth bent in a restrained smile. Traces of earlier attempts backdrop the portrait like grey shadows and lend the work an illusion of motion. This constant process of re-seeing and re-creating is characteristic for Auerbach. The artist is not interested in depiction and similarity, but in knowledge. "I try to translate what I see into what is and then paint what is" (interview with Judith Bumpus, in: Art & Artists, London, June 1986, p. 25).
The impressive self-portrait in graphite was purchased in 2017 with funds from the Jürgen R. and Eva-Maria Mann Foundation for the Städelsche Museums-Verein e.V. It is probably the first acquisition of a work by Frank Auerbach for a German museum and adds another important item to the collection of contemporary figurative British art.