Hockney Tops Christie’s Contemporary Sale With £33m Double Portrait

Post War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s London saw 41 lots finding buyers with three unsold and if not a record price for David Hockney’s Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969), a solid over the estimated sale price of £33 million ($43.4 million), with commission, the price came to £37.7 million ($49.5 million), or almost half of the sale’s £79.3 million total.

In 1968, the 30-year-old painter David Hockney 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.

Hockney Tops Christies Contemporary Sale With £33m Double Portrait
Cecily Brown, Night Passage (1999). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

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. The curator was also portrayed by Frank Stella, Larry Rivers, Alice Neel, George Segal, Marisol and Claes Oldenburg.

The sell-through rate of sale by lot was 93%. The sale’s total of £79.2 million ($104.3 million) was a drop from the same evening sale one year ago, which brought in £137.9 million ($190 million) across 65 lots, setting a record for a contemporary art auction in Europe.

Other successful lots in the sale

Nicolas de Staël’s Bouteilles (Bottles) (1952) passed its high estimate of £2.5 million ($3.3 million) winning a bid of £3.8 million ($5 million), or £4.5 million ($5.9 million) with commission.

Cecily Brown’s Night Passage (1999), a large and nearly abstract canvas in pastel hues, cruised past its high estimate of £2.5 million ($3.3 million), sold for a hammer price of £2.6 million ($3.4 million), or £3.1 million ($4.1 million) with commission.

Gerhard Richter’s large squeegee painting A B, Tower (1987) also sold for £2.6 million ($3.4 million), or £3.1 million ($4.1 million) with fees; pre-sale estimate of £3 million to £5 million ($3.9 million to $6.6 million).

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