Hockney’s iconic pool painting sells for £23.1 million in London

One of David Hockney’s most iconic pop art images of the 20th century made a splash at Sotheby’s auction house this week, selling for £23.1 million.

Painted at the end of 1966 following his graduation from art school, ‘The Splash’ showcases Hockney’s distinct minimalist style. The vibrant painting captures the split-second moment a person leaps into a swimming pool in sunny Los Angeles.

Not only is this a landmark work within David Hockney’s oeuvre, it’s an icon of Pop that defined an era and also gave a visual identity to LA,” reflected Emma Baker, Head of Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s, London.

Hockney’s lifelong fascination with the representation of water was sparked during his time in LA. The British artist created a trio of acclaimed swimming pool paintings in the 1960’s, including ‘A Little Splash’ and ‘A Bigger Splash’.

I love the idea, first of all, of painting like Leonardo, all his studies of water, swirling things,” explained Hockney, who is now aged 82, in 1976. “And I loved the idea of painting this thing that lasts for two seconds; it takes me two weeks to paint this event that lasts for two seconds.”

First sold at auction in 1973, ‘The Splash’ fetched a mere £25,000, purchased by Hockney’s dealer John Kasmin. Over thirty years later the painting was last bought for £2.9 million by a private collector in the same Sotheby’s sale room.

Prices for contemporary artworks have soared since then, yet some experts are disappointed with Tuesday’s auction result. It had been estimated to sell for £20-30 million, managing to achieve just north of the low estimate with only one or two bids registered.

If you push for a very high guarantee, as in this case, you kill off a lot of the interest before the event and the picture tends to sell for the guarantee price,” said Ivor Braka, a London dealer and Hockney specialist. But if the work had been estimated at a lower rate, Braka reckoned “it could have easily, with competitive bidding, reached £30 million.”

Overall Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction fared well, generating a respectable total of £79.2 million (£92.5 million with fees), despite its top lots failing to attract many bidders. Banksy’s controversial ‘Vote To Leave’ painting, which shows a heart-shaped balloon covering the ‘EA’ of a Brexit Leave poster, sold for £1.2 million and doubled its estimate.

Olly Barker, the firm’s European chairman, concluded that “against the headwinds of Brexit, the election and Sotheby’s changing hands, the new Sotheby’s is very much up and running.”

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