London, Royal Academy of Arts; Bilbao, Museo Guggenheim Bilbao; Cologne, Museum Ludwig, David Hockney. A Bigger Picture, January 2012 - February 2013, p. 25 illustrated (installation view of David Hockney: Espace/Paysage, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1999); and pp. 96-97, no. 18, illustrated in colour
Marco Livingstone, ‘The Road Less Travelled,’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, 2012, p. 26.
Painted in 1998, Double East Yorkshire is a work of crucial significance within the narrative of David Hockney’s career to date. This important and expansive painting belongs among the very first of Hockney’s Yorkshire landscape pictures: a small group of only six works that were executed between 1997 and 1998, which, alongside the present work also includes The Road to York through Sledmere (Collection of the artist); North Yorkshire (Private Collection, California); The Road Across the Wolds and Salts Mill, Saltaire, Yorkshire (both Salts Mill Collection); and Garrowby Hill (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). As the largest in size from the group and one of only two left in private hands, the present work is a painting of major consequence within Hockney’s famously measured and concise output. Prefiguring the corpus of landscapes principally painted between 2005 and 2011 in anticipation of the artist’s 2012 exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, this painting set the tone for an entire decade’s worth of work devoted to the landscape of his home county – a body of work that encompasses some of Hockney’s most ambitious and successful pictures including the colossal 32-part The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire (2011) in the collection of the Pompidou Centre, Paris. As Marco Livingstone has argued, without these first Yorkshire landscapes “it is questionable whether the artist would have considered returning to Bridlington to paint that same part of the country with such passion, commitment and intensity” (Marco Livingstone, ‘The Road Less Travelled,’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, 2012, p. 34). Included in the aforementioned Royal Academy show, which then travelled to the Guggenheim Bilbao and Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Double East Yorkshire was also shown as part of Espace/Paysage at the Pompidou Centre in 1999; a major survey that exhibited the entire cycle of first Yorkshire landscapes alongside those devoted to his beloved sun-drenched California. Painted on his return to California – around the same moment that Hockney was working on his panoramic views across the Grand Canyon – Double East Yorkshire is one of the most stunning and evocative of Hockney’s remarkable depictions of his home county. Heralding the beginning of, to quote Livingstone, “a prolonged love letter to his native land”, this painting is a glorious and poignant paean to the landscape of Yorkshire (Ibid., p. 26).
Hockney had first come to know the area as a teenager after spending the summers of 1952 and 1953 working on a farm – a time he recalled with fondness: “It was a terrific experience. The job was boring, but I took home eight pounds at the end and it instilled in me a love of the landscape which I never forgot” (David Hockney quoted in: Christopher Simon Sykes, Hockney: The Biography, Volume I 1937-1975, London, 2011, p. 35). Yet it was not until the artist’s sixtieth year that the Wolds became a source of creative inspiration: prior to the late 1990s Hockney’s forays into the landscape genre were primarily depictions of the strong colours and vibrant light of California, his adopted home. It was a poignant combination of a close friend’s ill health and his mother’s advancing age that drew Hockney increasingly back to Yorkshire. Over a prolonged period, Hockney would return to visit his mother every three months, during which he would take her out for long drives across the Wolds. It was during these visits that he also made the daily journey to see a gravely ill friend, Jonathan Silver – an ardent champion of the artist’s painting and owner of Salts Mill in Saltaire, a former textile mill that is now a shopping centre and art gallery devoted to Hockney’s work. These visits involved driving from his mother’s home in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, to Silver’s bedside in Wetherby, a journey that imprinted every contour of the landscape indelibly on the artist’s memory. Silver had long pleaded with Hockney to paint Yorkshire, and it was only with the worsening of his friend’s health that he finally took up the subject and painted the very first Yorkshire landscapes, a small and pivotal group of six paintings to which the present work belongs. Importantly, these paintings would crucially inform and set a precedent for the next decade of the artist’s practice. Double East Yorkshire and its fellow first Yorkshire landscapes thus arose from a uniquely poignant combination of circumstances: “It was through friendship, devotion to family and a sense of loss that Hockney came to paint Yorkshire and, through this prolonged love letter to his native land, to understand the depths of his feeling for his country and explicitly for the north of England” (Marco Livingstone, op. cit., p. 26).
Gently rolling fields sweep towards the horizon, their verdant colour tones suggestive of an abundance of summer fauna and arboreal profusion, whilst scattered copses of trees stretch towards the distant sky, fading gradually into a blue haze on the horizon. A glimpse of an empty road can be seen at the left of the image, winding serenely through the contours of the landscape. Hockney poured his love of these idylls into Double East Yorkshire and its companion works, as Marco Livingstone notes: “These paintings, with their vivid colours and emphatically curvaceous lines of force, constituted Hockney’s first extended declaration of love for East Yorkshire” (Marco Livingstone, ‘Home to Bridlington: Routes to a Private Paradise,’ in: Exh. Cat., Swiridoff, Kunsthalle Würth, David Hockney: Just Nature, 2009, p. 184). The result is a joyful celebration of this quintessentially English scenery and a reflection of Hockney’s truly emotive connection with the surroundings of the East Riding landscape: a powerful link awakened through a particular conjunction of personal circumstances which led to the creation of this extraordinary work.
Stretching from the River Humber to the coast of East Yorkshire, the gently undulating hills which make up the Wolds are very different in character to the rugged beauty of West Yorkshire – an area which had acted as a source of artistic inspiration to J.M.W. Turner and Alexander Cozens amongst many others. The unspoilt beauty of the East Yorkshire landscape, which was almost totally untouched by tourism, seemed to act as a key artistic spur, encouraging Hockney to produce some of the greatest paintings of his career to date. Remarkably, where four of the six first Yorkshire landscapes were created in the attic of Hockney’s mother’s house in Bridlington (The Road to York through Sledmere, North Yorkshire, The Road Across the Wolds and Salts Mill, Saltaire, Yorkshire, all 1997), Garrowby Hill and Double East Yorkshire were painted on Hockney’s return to California and were based on sketches and the artist’s own memories of driving through the countryside. The result is a gently idealised version of the landscape as Hockney imbued his paintings with vestiges of his emotional attachment to the place: a connection that was becoming ever more powerful owing to the ties of family and friendship. The luminescent colours which seem to emanate from the double canvases of Double East Yorkshire are redolent, in their vibrancy, of the brilliant light of Hockney’s earlier Californian landscapes and contemporaneous Grand Canyon pictures: the artist’s amalgamation of West Coast sunshine with the soft contours of the Wolds engenders a uniquely personal evocation of these timeless surroundings.
Despite this apparent divergence, the Canyon works and the Yorkshire landscapes are bound both stylistically, with their concern for spatial depth and use of colour, and thematically, with the newly emergent spirituality of Hockney’s practice. Indeed, Laurence Weschler, a regular interviewer of the artist, identified the impetus for Hockney’s paintings of the Grand Canyon and of Yorkshire as a subliminal response to the deaths of many of his friends during the AIDs crisis in the 1980s and early 1990s; Weschler proposed that with landscape “you keep returning to magnificence and awe and – might the proper word be reverence? – as responses to all this devastation” (Laurence Weschler in conversation with David Hockney, in: Exh. Cat., L.A. Louver, Los Angeles, Looking at Landscape/Being in Landscape, p. 6). There is a definite human dimension to these paintings that purport to be uninhabited depictions of landscape. The techniques that Hockney uses revolve around the perspective of the spectator who stands in the centre of the composition. Indeed, Hockney said of these works that his intention was to “convey the experience of space” (David Hockney cited in: Laurence Weschler, ‘Wider Perspectives: Painting Yorkshire and the Grand Canyon (1998)’, True to Life: Twenty-five Years of Conversations with David Hockney, Berkeley, 2008, p. 112). However, as Chris Stephens, the curator of Hockney’s 2017 Tate retrospective, notes, there is a definite degree to which these works are “positioned in relation to a different register of the human experience”, that is, a spiritual sphere (Chris Stephens, ‘Experiences of Place’, in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain, David Hockney, p. 163). Hockney seems to accept this idea of spirituality. In the same interview with Weschler he responded: “My sister thinks space is God, and I’m like that” (David Hockney in conversation with Laurence Weschler, op. cit., p. 31).
Hockney has frequently been inspired by artistic masterpieces from earlier eras: in particular, the influence of Vincent van Gogh’s later landscapes can be discerned within Double East Yorkshire in the swirling curves Hockney’s brushstrokes. Indeed, the Impressionist and post-Impressionist masters were of great import for Hockney’s portrayal of the Wolds; a glorification of nature’s beauty and devotion to a sense of place is redolent in the first Yorkshire landscapes, while the paintings created during the 2000s professed an even closer affiliation having been painted en plein air. For the present work and its corpus, the intense colouration of the Fauve artists was also a source of inspiration: bright purple contrasts with acid green to evoke the hues found within the paintings of André Derain or Henri Matisse. While akin to Monet and his late enveloping cycles of Nymphéas, Hockney’s panoramic vision of the Wolds was projected with impressive impetus. In combining two large canvases, Double East Yorkshire anticipated the even vaster landscapes that the artist was to create during the 2000s and exhibit at the Royal Academy in 2012, for which as many as fifty canvases were combined to support the recreation of the wide open spaces that characterise this area of Yorkshire. Hockney relished the challenge of painting on such an expansive scale, fully utilising the technical possibilities provided by oil paint: a medium he particularly enjoyed working in.
Ultimately, Hockney’s intense connection with his subject elevates this serene pastoral landscape to the level of the Romantic Sublime. Double East Yorkshire is an epic homage to an ordinary part of the world that has been granted artistic immortality by one of the greatest artists of the Twentieth Century.
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