Hockney portrait to go on sale to save the Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House has announced its ‘Portrait of Sir David Webster’ by David Hockney will go under the hammer at Christie’s 20th Century: London to Paris sale on 22 October in London to raise essential funds.

According to ROH chief, Alex Beard, proceeds from the portrait will be used to protect the future of the venue, which is has been struggling since it was forced to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic on 16 March 2020. “This was a really tough call… But we have to face the situation we are in and if we can remain viable and get through this, then we can get back to employing people in the future”, Beard said.

The ROH is the home of The Royal OperaThe Royal Ballet and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Beard says Covid-19 is the biggest challenge the ROH has faced since the war and represents possibly “the biggest crisis in our history”.

The sale of the portrait is part of a four-point plan to ensure the survival of the venue during the pandemic, which has threatened the UK arts sector with closures and redundancies. The ROH survival plan includes redundancies and a fundraising campaign and the venue is also waiting to hear about a potential loan from the Treasury’s emergency bailout fund for the arts.

Proceeds from the sale of the Hockney portrait “will be used to ensure that the world’s greatest artists can once more return to our stages”, Beard added.

Carrying an estimate of £11-£18 million, the acrylic on canvas was painted in 1971 for the ROH building in Covent Garden. The late Sir Webster ran the ROH from 1945-1970, a period of expansion and ambition during which Webster worked with Dame Vinette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet, to build Covent Garden’s international reputation after the Second World War.

Born in 1937 in Bradford, Hockney contributed to the pop art movement of the 1960s and is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. The Webster portrait comes from Hockney’s naturalist phase, a favourite of co-head of Christie’s post-war and contemporary European art, Katharine Arnold. “There is so much time taken with it and so much attention to detail…most people agree this was the peak of his practice”, Arnold explained.

Although the ROH has a good relationship with Hockney and he has been informed about the sale, Beard noted that artist “does not much like it when any of his work is auctioned”. 

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