David Hockney in Betty Freeman’s LA Home, in front of Beverley Hills Housewife (1966-7), 1967. Photograph by Kasmin.

LONDON - The ‘Young British Artists’ of the 1960s were the precursors of their 1990s counter-parts: cool, good-looking, almost interchangeable with their rock-star peers; they took the international art world by storm, from the galleries to the biennales to surveys at the grandest museums.

One can see this in the remarkable series of paintings made by David Hockney in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, such as Beverley Hills Housewife and Fred & Marcia Weisman.

In these works we see the new art-collecting elite in their sleek Richard-Neutra-inspired homes, their pools – and their art – glittering in the sun.

David Hockney, American Colleectors (Fred & Marcia Weisman), 1968. © David Hockney, Collection Art Institute of Chicago, photo credit: Richard Schmidt.

What is perhaps most striking about these wonderful bright, limpid paintings, are the art works that their subjects pose alongside:  the minimal, totemic sculptures of Scottish-born William Turnbull (for the Weismans, their Henry Moore is moved to the background). Clearly, if you want to be cool and cutting-edge, what you need in L. A. is contemporary British art.

William Turnbull in his studio. Photography by Jorge Lewinski. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth.

Turnbull had established a reputation in America  as early as 1955, when he was introduced to the collector Donald Blinken – later chairman of the Rothko Foundation – who immediately became both a patron and advocate for Turnbull’s work.  Blinken famously stated that Turnbull’s sculptures  were the only objects that could hold their own when placed alongside his paintings by Rothko,  their simplicity and timeless, hieratic beauty reflecting  Rothko’s own understated power.

William Turnbull, Lotus Totem, 1962. Estimate £120,000–180,000. Modern & Post-War British Art, 9 June.

Turnbull’s Lotus Totem (1962) is amongst his most important works of the period ever to come to auction, appearing on 9 June as part of Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art sale in London. Executed five years before Hockney’s Hollywood portraits, it was included in Turnbull’s first solo show in America, at the Marlborough-Gerson gallery. After spending time in the States, it returns to these shores – a symbol of a transatlantic dialogue often overlooked.


Simon Hucker is a specialist in the Modern British & Irish Art department, Sotheby’s London.


Modern & Post-War British Art, 9 June

Consignments are still being accepted for this sale. Please contact the department here.