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This portrait of the nineteenth century French poet Rimbaud was the result of a commission from David Wilkie, a collector who owned a number of Auerbach's paintings. Auerbach was initially asked for a painting based on the sculpture 'Ecstasy of St Teresa' by the Renaissance master Bernini. Wilkie had seen this work (in the Cornaro chapel in the church of S. Maria Vittoria in Rome) during an army posting in Italy at the end of the Second World War. However, when Auerbach declined this commission, Wilkie instead asked for a portrait of Rimbaud, whose poetry he admired. Auerbach responded by transplanting a portrait of Rimbaud into the setting of the Cornaro chapel in place of the Bernini sculpture.

September 2004