The Splash Sotheby’S To Sell Iconic 1960S Work By David Hockney


David Hockney The Splash‘…I loved the idea of painting this thing that lasts for two seconds; it takes me two weeks to paint this event that lasts two seconds. Everyone knows a splash can’t be frozen in time, so when you see it like that in a painting it’s even more striking than in a photograph.’ David Hockney*

David Hockney (b. 1937), The Splash, 1966, estimate: £2,200,000-3,000,000

SOTHEBY’S will be offering one of the most significant works by David Hockney ever come to auction in its Evening Sale of Contemporary Art in London on Tuesday, June 21. The Splash is an iconic image of the 1960s and is considered to be one of Hockney’s greatest achievements. Painted in 1966, when Hockney was already living in Los Angeles, The Splash is the second painting in a series of three, the largest of which, A Bigger Splash, is in the collection of the Tate Modern, and the smallest, A Little Splash, is in a major private collection. This is the work that first established Hockney’s international reputation as the leading artist of his generation and revealed his singular ability to absorb and resolve the disparate aesthetic and technical concerns of Minimalism, Modernist Abstraction and Pop Art in a style entirely his own.

By the time of his graduation from the Royal College of Art in 1962, Hockney was already hotly sought-after as a major new talent of the British art scene although it was not until he settled in California two years later that he developed the more mature, naturalistic style for which he is renowned. Los Angeles was a place he had been admiring from a distance for years through magazines, books and movies, and actually moving to live there in 1966 had a profound impact on his art and sense of identity in a manner comparable to Gauguin’s trip to Tahiti.

The clarity of the light and landscape inspired his eye, while the ‘California Dreaming’ life provided the hedonistic escape he had yearned for back in England. It was everything he had hoped it would be: a land of possibility, sun drenched houses, deep-blue pools, palm trees and beautiful bodies. The liberal culture of Los Angeles had been one of the main reasons for him visiting, and in 1966 he fell passionately in love with an 18-year-old boy named Peter Schlesinger. It was his first great romance and it brought to his work a previously absent assurance and visual directness. The Splash announced this new style of painting and it embodies all that he saw as attractive about the place: the warmth, the affluence and the pursuit of pleasure.

The Splash is one of Hockney’s most carefully planned and inventive pictures. Through a combination of formal means, the illusion of space and Californian life is broken down to its distilled Minimalist essence. Although fundamentally representational, his construction of the scene, stacking strips of colour like a house of cards, is conspicuously abstract. This reduced, highly stylised language shows a playful acknowledgment of the contemporary avant-garde as he simultaneously draws on time-suspended notions associated with Modernist abstraction, the flatness of Minimalism and the bold language and subject matter of Pop.
With The Splash, Hockney sought to capture on the canvas the sudden splash of water just seconds after a diver has broken the calm surface of the swimming pool. Freezing in a still image something that is never still is one of the artist’s best-loved paradoxes. Although located firmly in popular culture like much of Hockney’s work, there is a powerful autobiographical narrative that emanates from its honesty of execution and close affinity to the events of his life. This was reflected by the title given to the film on Hockney’s life, A Bigger Splash, which like the painting, affirmed his position as one of the most influential and individual painters active today.

Having last been seen in Britain in the early 1970s, The Splash is now coming home. The painting, previously owned by David Geffen, has remained in a private collection in California for the past 20 years. It is estimated at £2,200,000-3,000,000.

The Splash will be on view to prior to the auction at Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1:
Friday 16 June 9 am – 4.30 pm Saturday 17 June 12 noon – 5 pm Sunday 18 June 12 noon – 5 pm Monday 19 June 9 pm– 3 pm Tuesday 20 June 9 am – 7 pm Wednesday 21 June 9 am – 3 pm

*as cited in Nick Stangos, (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1984, p. 126

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