Top Lots At Auction
#1. Portrait of An Artist
Sotheby’s New-York, 15 November 2018
Portrait of An Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972
Acrylic on canvas
213.5 x 305 cm (84.1 x 120.1 inches)
One of the most iconic images in the artist’s oeuvre, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) is a story of two compositions. The first, started in 1971, was inspired by the serendipitous juxtaposition of two photographs on the artist’s studio floor. ‘One was of a figure swimming underwater and therefore quite distorted… the other was a boy gazing at something on the ground,’ Hockney would later recall. ‘The idea of painting two figures in different styles appealed so much that I began the painting immediately.’
#2. Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott
Christie’s London, 6 March 2019
Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, 1969
Acrylic on canvas
214×305 cm (84.3 x 120.1 inches)
David Hockney’s double portrait of Geldzahler, a curator at The Met, and his partner, painter Christopher Scott, helped to secure his reputation. In 1968, the 30-year-old painter began a series of seven monumental canvases, each 7 ft by 10 ft. These paintings would consume him for the next seven years and come to define his career.
The series, which began with paintings of the English writer Christopher Isherwood and his partner, the American artist Don Bachardy, and the American collectors Fred and Marcia Weisman, has come to be known as Hockney’s ‘Double Portraits’. Each depicting a pair of sitters (mostly absent from one another’s attention), they are set in domestic locations and painted in the bold, Pop Art palette that Hockney adopted after his arrival in California in the early Sixties.
Inspired by this newfound discourse, Hockney was already planning a third double portrait by October, depicting his friend, the influential curator Henry Geldzahler, and his partner Christopher Scott. Hockney had met Geldzahler in New York at Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’ in 1963, the year after he graduated from the Royal College of Art. Geldzahler at the time was a young and successful curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a figure at the centre of New York’s contemporary art scene. Warhol once remarked that Geldzahler ‘gave me all of my ideas’, and made a 90-minute film of him smoking a cigar.
#3. Nichols Canyon
Phillips New-York, 7 December 2020
Nichols Canyon, 1980
Acrylic on canvas
213.4 x 152.4 cm (84×60 inches)
Depicting the winding titular road in Los Angeles, Nichols Canyon is one of David Hockney’s greatest masterpieces—and unequivocally the most important landscape by the artist in private hands. Executed in a pivotal year in the artist’s career, 1980, the tour de force is considered by contemporary scholarship to be Hockney’s first mature landscape, and has been exhibited as such in both of his major travelling retrospectives. Nichols Canyon is one of his most recognizable paintings, having graced the cover of the 1994 monograph David Hockney and was reproduced on the poster for the Metropolitan Museum leg of his retrospective in 1988.
What makes the image so iconic is its fusion of two of Hockney’s themes that have appeared and reappeared time and again throughout his entire career: the natural world and the theater. One of the most refined paintings from a very small body of work depicting the Los Angeles terrain—other examples of which are in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and Museum Ludwig, Cologne—Nichols Canyon marks the beginning of his decades-long panoramic landscapes series spanning California, the Grand Canyon, and the United Kingdom.
#4. The Splash
Sotheby’s London, 11 February 2020
The Splash, 1966
Acrylic on canvas
183×183 cm (72×72 inches)
When considered alongside its sister painting, Tate’s A Bigger Splash, Hockney’s composition of a sun-drenched swimming pool disturbed by a torrent of cascading water is a definitive image, not only within the artist’s career and the Pop art movement at large, but also within the greater canon of art history itself.
Indeed, looking beyond the 20th century, there are very few artworks to have attained such a status: equally as recognizable as Edvard Munch’s The Scream, Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Claude Monet’s Waterlilies, Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Lichtenstein’s comic strip heroines, and Jasper Johns’s Flags, this motif is a masterstroke of ingenuity that sits squarely in the select pantheon of true art history icons. Semiotically tied to our very understanding of what Pop art is, and inextricable from the idea of Californian living, this image is utterly ingrained within the contemporary cultural imagination. It is an irrefutably famous, museum-worthy, and undeniably rare painting of masterpiece calibre and mythic proportion.
#5. Sur La Terrasse
Christie’s New-York, 13 November 2019
Sur La Terrasse, 1971
Acrylic on canvas
274.5 x 213.5 cm (108.1 x 84.1 inches)
A glowing sun-drenched vision rendered on a spectacular life-sized scale, Sur la Terrasse stands among David Hockney’s most poignant works. Begun in March 1971, and completed that summer, it was painted during the decline of his relationship with Peter Schlesinger: his first love and greatest muse. This devastating turn of events became a milestone in the artist’s personal life, precipitating an intense period of sadness that found heart-wrenching expression in his paintings. The present work, infused with longing, romance and melancholy, represents Hockney’s last depiction of Schlesinger during their time together. It is based on a series of photographs taken on the balcony of the couple’s room at the Hôtel de la Mamounia in Marrakesh, where they had spent two weeks in February. Viewed through the open French windows, Schlesinger stands with his back to the artist, bathed in long shadows. Lush gardens bloom before him, as if enticing him to exotic new pastures. Positioning himself beyond the picture frame, Hockney casts himself as a voyeur, bidding a private farewell to his lover. It is a deeply moving portrait of estrangement, whose themes would be revisited in the iconic 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures). The present work and its studies, one of which is held in the Arts Council Collection in London, featured in Jack Hazan’s 1974 documentary A Bigger Splash, which he began filming during this period. Last seen publicly at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1973, the work has remained in the same private collection for nearly half a century.
#6. Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica
Sotheby’s New-York, 16 May 2018
Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica, 1990
Oil on canvas
78×120 inches (198.1 x 304.8 cm)
One of a limited group of monumental California landscape paintings, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica is a significant marker of David Hockney’s sixty-year career. The ambitious painting, dazzling with hues of chartreuse, tangerine, rose, lavender and cerulean across its 10-foot wide canvas, epitomizes the artist’s bold use of color – a characteristic that has come to define his oeuvre. Comparable works hold court in renowned institutions such as the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. This 1990 oil on canvas is also an acknowledgement of the importance and significance of traditional painting. At a time when artists across the board were turning away from painting and towards photography and conceptual art, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica addresses the history and impact of artistic styles such as Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, all executed in Hockney’s signature vernacular.
Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica may also be interpreted as David Hockney’s heartfelt ode to Los Angeles. In his autobiography That’s the Way I See It, which features the present work on the back cover, he writes, “anyone who had been on my Wagner drive would immediately recognize Pacific Coast Highway [and Santa Monica] – a multiple view of Santa Monica Bay and the mountains.” Wagner Road, the artist’s multifaceted and variegated daily route from his home in the Hollywood Hills to his studio on Santa Monica Boulevard, encapsulates Los Angeles’s bright sunlight and bold colors, the very characteristics that drew Hockney away from the grey skies of London. Remembered and recalled in his studio, the result is a masterpiece in which mountain peaks, rolling hills, serpentine roads, calm bays and orderly cityscapes harmoniously vie for attention, guiding the viewer from the top of the road to the horizon.
#7. Portrait of Sir David Webster
Christie’s London, 22 October 202o
Portrait of Sir David Webster, 1971
Acrylic on canvas
60 1/8 x 72 5/8 inches (152.8 x 184.5 cm)
Signed, inscribed and dated ‘Sir David Webster with tulips Jan 1971 David Hockney’ (on the reverse)
Executed in 1971, during one of David Hockney’s greatest periods, the present work is an exquisite tribute to Sir David Webster: the former General Administrator of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Painted on the occasion of his retirement after an outstanding twenty-five-year tenure, it depicts Webster in the artist’s studio, seated before a glass table upon a Mies van der Rohe ‘MR’ chair. Rendered on a grand scale, the work unites Hockney’s flair for human observation with his lifelong passion for opera. Inviting stylistic comparison with the artist’s landmark double portraits produced between 1968 and 1975, it demonstrates the meticulous exploration of space, perspective, lighting and compositional drama that would eventually come to inform his own stage designs – for venues including Glyndebourne, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Royal Opera House itself. The vase of tulips – frequently interpreted as a symbol for Hockney – implicates the artist’s own presence within the painting, hinting at what was to become a rich dialogue with Webster’s creative legacy.
Portrait of Sir David Webster was the first of a rare handful of commissions completed by Hockney: he would not accept another until three decades later, when he painted Sir George and Lady Mary Christie of Glyndebourne for the National Portrait Gallery. As an avid opera fan, Hockney would certainly have connected with Webster’s story. Indeed, the two shared much in common: Webster, like Hockney, had been entranced by theatre and music in his youth, and had eventually left his home in the North of England for the excitement of London. After beginning his career in retail, he had served as Chairman of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society during the Second World War. His visionary leadership of the orchestra prompted an invitation to Covent Garden in the mid-1940s, where he persuaded Sadler’s Wells Ballet to take up residence, and set about establishing what was to become the Royal Opera company. Under his administration, the Royal Opera House was restored from a wartime dance hall into a world-class institution that hosted the finest international singers, dancers and conductors of its time. Webster was also President of the Wagner Society: a fact that would surely have appealed to Hockney, who made the pilgrimage to Bayreuth and religiously listened to the composer’s music.
#8. Double East Yorkshire
Sotheby’s London, 26 June 2018
Double East Yorkshire, 1998
Oil on canvas in two parts
60×76 inches (152.4 x 193 cm)
Double East Yorkshire, a painting which in its large dimensions (nearly four metres wide) and division across two canvases anticipates the pictures Hockney was to make in the Wolds nearly a decade later.
Double East Yorkshire, painted in 1998, was one first Yorkshire landscape pictures and also one of the largest. Hockney was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, but lived between London, Paris and the United States for almost four decades from the 1950s onward. In the 1990s, he returned to Yorkshire more frequently to visit his ailing mother. When asked what inspired him to start painting East Yorkshire and the Wolds, Hockney replied: “It’s a landscape that I’ve known since childhood, so it has meaning, but I never thought of it as a subject until 10 years ago. It is full of lovely little valleys and not many people.”
#9. 30 Sunflowers
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong, 9 July 2020
30 Sunflowers, 1996
Oil on canvas
72×72 inches (182.9 x 182.9 cm)
Created in 1996, 30 Sunflowers is a singularly extraordinary masterpiece within Hockney’s inimitable oeuvre. Marking Hockney’s return to painting after a decade primarily immersed in photography, the exuberantly radiant painting represents the artist’s momentous undertaking of traditional subject matter – the venerated still life – at the height of his artistic powers. At the brink of his sixtieth year, at a cogent peak of his career, he must have finally deemed himself ready and worthy to encounter his heroes and predecessors, including Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet and Johannes Vermeer.
Prior to painting 30 Sunflowers, Hockney attended two exhibitions that proved to be tectonic: Claude Monet, 1840-1926 at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Johannes Vermeer retrospective at the Mauritshuis in the Hague. Emerging thrilled and revitalized, he picked up his brush again with renewed vigor and urgency, applying unprecedented attention to painterly texture and modulated tonalities. 30 Sunflowers is not only one of the two largest paintings of the Flower series; it is without doubt the most superlatively exceptional in terms of its richly resplendent color palette, complex, charged compositional structure, and intimately significant subject matter that characterize the artist’s most iconic masterpieces.
#10. Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs
Sotheby’s New-York, 14 November 2018
Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs, 1988
Oil on canvas
72×60 inches (182.9 x 152.4 cm)
To an artist born and bred in the harsh North of England, the glow of California sunshine that brightened David Hockney’s Los Angeles home must have truly inspired creativity. Painted in 1988, the same year as the artist’s first critically acclaimed U.S. retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs is an exceptional example of the rich color palette, complex compositional structure and intimately significant subject matter that characterize the artist’s most iconic masterpieces.
Though highly personal in nature – a tender depiction of the artist’s own home featuring his beloved pet dachshunds – Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs is also evocative of the kind of brushwork and use of color characteristic of the post-Impressionists and Van Gogh in particular. Hockney flattens space, enhancing the emotional and physical immediacy of the picture. Adorning the walls of the living room are a series of works the artist executed years earlier, rendered playfully here, Hockney pictures in a Hockney painting. The viewer is drawn toward the sunlit space and open chairs as if a welcome guest, blurring the line between reality and memory, rendering not just pictorially, but emotionally, the very feeling of being home.