After leaving the Marlborough Gallery, Kasmin opened his eponymous gallery on Bond Street in partnership with Sheridon Blackwood, the 5th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava. It was the centre of the London art scene and the epitome of Sixties cool. With the exception of Hockney, Kasmin’s stable comprised contemporary American and British abstract artists; Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, Anthony Caro and Bernard Cohen. The gallery, on 118 New Bond Street, was the first architect-designed ‘white cube’ space in London. His programme of alternating older established international artists with young, London-based ones, in this state of-the-art ‘machine’ for contemplation, had a profound effect on how young contemporary artists were seen, both by serious international collectors and by the hip crowd that attended the packed openings. It also gave the artists themselves the confidence to look out, across new horizons. With Kasmin’s promotion Hockney rapidly achieved a degree of commercial success unusual for a young painter: by 1963 his shows were already selling out and museum patronage – namely from the Tate Gallery and the Arts Council – swiftly followed.
By the 1970s, a distinctly naturalistic style began taking precedent in his work; a stylistic shift very much related to the body of expertly drawn portraits of his friends, of which the present work is an early and standout example. Indeed, Kasmin was one of the first friends to sit for Hockney and he remembers the experience vividly. “At the time”, Kasmin has described, “I would go to Paris fairly regularly to visit David. He had a studio in the Cour de Rohan that had belonged to Balthus – a beautiful studio. David’s ‘Ingres period’ was in full flow at this point. He was making portraits of other artists who were in Paris, such as Andy Warhol and Jean Leger. And then, of course, me – his dealer. I remember sitting for this portrait as if it were yesterday: it was done in the morning, as the studio was distinctly peaceful then and the light very good. It was very intense - it took about three hours, with very few breaks, although we were both smoking throughout. In the portrait I’m wearing a new suit by the Milanese tailor Domenico Bombino, shoes by New & Lingwood and round tortoise-shell glasses by Cutler and Gross – something of a signature of both David and mine at the time” (Kasmin, January 2019). In this work, as in the other portraits of sitters such as Henry Geldzahler, Andy Warhol and his favoured muse Celia Birtwell, Hockney’s ambition to establish a connection with the European Masters comes markedly to the fore. Classically posed, adroitly translated, and fully rendered, Kasmin is a work of consummate draughtsmanship that belongs to the highest tier of portraits by the artist.
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