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This work belongs to a series of paintings and sculptures, known collectively as the ‘Hostages’, made in 1943–5. Fautrier spent most of this period in a sanatorium on the outskirts of Paris. At night, he could hear the Gestapo torture and execute prisoners in the nearby woods. The pitted and scarred surface of Head of a Hostage suggests both individual features and the anonymity of bodies found in mass graves. Versions of the piece exist in bronze, but this cast is made from lead, carrying with it connotations of weight, toxicity and mortality.

July 2012