Christie's unveils David Hockney's California Unseen in Public for more than 40 Years

Wednesday, January 31, 2024
Christie's unveils David Hockney's California Unseen in Public for more than 40 Years

Christie’s will offer David Hockney’s masterpiece, California (1965, Estimate on request: in the region of £16,000,000) as a highlight of the 20th / 21st Century: London Evening Sale on 7 March. Held in the same European private collection since 1968, the painting stands among Hockney’s first great swimming pool paintings and has been unseen in public for more than 40 years.

California was acquired by the present owner in 1968. The painting was unveiled in London on 25 January ahead of a touring exhibition schedule that includes Paris from 3 to 8 February and New York from 15 to 19 February. California will then be on view in London at Christie’s global headquarters on King Street from 1 to 7 March. California is the largest and finest in the extraordinary group of early pool paintings created in London after Hockney’s first visit to Los Angeles in 1964. The art historians Paul Melia and Ulrich Luckhardt have noted that ‘Hockney considers it to be one of his most important pool paintings’. The paintings that followed have come to be synonymous with his oeuvre, combining dazzling technical virtuosity with strains of fantasy, desire and longing.

Katharine Arnold, Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Europe: “David Hockney’s pool paintings have become some of the most iconic and loved images of our time. California is an exceptional painting made shortly after Hockney’s first trip to Los Angeles in 1964 where he marvelled at the brilliant light and mosaic-like cityscape populated by bright blue swimming pools. After a childhood brought up in the north of England, and having studied in London, still reeling from the Second World War, California must have felt like Arcadia; a beautiful place to be free and enjoy being young. This sense of the artist’s optimism and jubilation is in the very fabric of Hockney’s California. Owned by a private European collector since 1968 and last seen in public in 1979, this painting is sensational and follows in the footsteps of Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), which achieved a world record at Christie’s in 2018.”

Joseph Braka, Junior Specialist, Post-War and Contemporary Art, London: “As one of David Hockney’s first of a series of now fabled pool paintings, California stands as one of the most important pictures of the artist’s career. Executed on a grand scale, with dynamic line and vibrant colour, the painting vividly conveys the wide-eyed exhilaration of a young Englishman plunged into a social revolution sweeping the West Coast of America. Through a body of tangled lines and cells, emblematic of his early style before his move towards naturalism, Hockney masterfully captures the elusive and ever-changing properties of water and light.”

A halcyon vista of carefree summer bliss, California is among Hockney’s earliest iterations of the swimming pool motif and was one of the first pool paintings to include figures. While Hockney incorporated a swimming pool in the 1964 painting California Art Collector, it was not until he returned to London for Christmas that year that he made his first full pool painting: a figureless composition entitled Picture of a Hollywood Swimming Pool (1964). California followed shortly afterwards, along with the closely related painting Two Boys in a Pool, Hollywood (1965). California anticipates many of the achievements that followed in Hockney’s subsequent masterpieces. Its kaleidoscopic depiction of moving water lays the foundations for the techniques explored in A Bigger Splash (1967, Tate, London) and Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972). Its naked figures foreshadow the sensuous male nudes of Sunbather (1966, Museum Ludwig, Cologne) and Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool (1966, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). So essential did Hockney consider the painting to his oeuvre that, when unable to include it in his 1988 retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, he made his own copy, now held in the museum’s permanent collection. 

Faced with depicting the elusive, ever-changing properties of water and light, a theme which lies at the heart of Hockney's practice, he made his first great forays into the themes of vision and perception that would come to define his work. California’s stylised vocabulary of tangled lines and cells is particularly distinctive of this early period, predating the artist’s turn towards naturalism and his landmark double portraits made during the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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