“T he Garfields left an incredible legacy in the print world; they really had a great eye,” says Yessica Marks, head of prints department (EMEA) at Sotheby’s. The late couple owned over 6,000 prints in total, which will feature in a number of sales over 2023/2024. And their extensive collection included substantial Hockney holdings, a number of rare and revealing early prints by the man these days, renowned for his recent iPad paintings of tumbling, luscious landscapes in locations such as Normandy.
“Works from this period [1950s and 1960s] are autobiographical and filled with youthful energy,” says Marks, pointing to Fish & Chip Shop (1954) which shows Hayden and Janet Smith behind the counter of their chippy in Eccleshill, Bradford, with Hockney leaning against the counter in conversation.
'The print was a token of thanks from Hockney who, as a hungry young student at the Bradford College of Art, often popped in to the shop for spare scraps'
The image presents a warm scene imbued with affection (an edition given to the shop owners by Hockney hung above the deep fat fryer for years, prompting comments from customers buying their chips and pies. The print was a token of thanks from Hockney who, as a hungry young student at the Bradford College of Art, often popped in to the shop for spare scraps). “This was when Hockney made his first foray into printmaking, producing the colour lithograph at the age of 17,” says Marks. “It’s really accomplished.”
When he arrived at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London in 1959, Hockney began making prints because he couldn’t afford paint supplies. Under the tutelage of the professor of printmaking, Julian Trevelyan, he branched into etching, producing Kaisarion and all his beauty in 1961. The work is layered, showing Kaisarion, the son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, holding court in a scene awash with details such as the RCA insignia and a miniature army.
The work also reflects Hockney’s own journey with his sexuality, drawing on the Greek poet Cavafy who embraced his gayness. “Hockney’s etching at that time was rather straightforward, engraving on a single plate,” says the London-based gallerist Lyndsey Ingram who co-curated an exhibition of the artist’s etchings in 2017.
"These early works are intensely personal; they show him standing up to authority and testing boundaries"
“There are lovely variations in the reds and many variations in texture in the Kaisarion piece. These early works are intensely personal; they show him standing up to authority and testing boundaries - we see this reflected in how he pushes the medium to its limits,” Ingram adds. Other key etchings of the period are included in the semi-autobiographical series A Rake’s Progress (1961-63) which tell the tale of a young gay man finding himself in New York, his art mirroring his life yet again.
These early prints reflect the mass of ideas and influences swirling round Hockney. Pablo Picasso, for instance, towered over European art, casting his own spell on the young Bradford boy. In 1960, a vast exhibition of Picasso’s work was held at the Tate Gallery, which Hockney visited about eight times.
“The most important discovery for Hockney was that the artist did not need to limit himself to one kind of picture, but could move in any direction he wished"
“The most important discovery for Hockney was that the artist did not need to limit himself to one kind of picture, but could move in any direction he wished,” writes the art historian Marco Livingstone (David Hockney, World of Art). Hockney was also enthralled by Alan Davie whose 1958 exhibition at Wakefield Art Gallery “struck him as a revelation and increased his appetite for modern art”, adds Livingstone.
After his Bradford education, London life and the RCA transformed Hockney. “Most of us had had very traditional teaching methods up until that point, and when we got to the RCA we wanted to do more physical things and abstraction, which was getting big, coming from America. I think they [the tutors] were slightly at a loss as to how to deal with that,” he wrote in a 2012 blog.
This rebellious, more anarchic aspect of Hockney’s character is apparent in the 1962 etching and aquatint in black entitled The Diploma. In the work, the artist mocks the RCA establishment following threats he may not get his diploma, taking a swipe at key members of staff such as Robin Darwin, the principal, and Michael Kullman, the Head of the General Studies Department, who is depicted as two-faced. Hockney is, rather cheekily, presenting himself with his own certificate in a rampageous retelling of life at the RCA.
“[Hockney's] early work is underrated; the sale will shed light on this part of his career”
“His early work is underrated; the sale will shed light on this part of his career,” Marks adds. Notably among the Garfield treasure trove of Hockney prints featured in the auction are plenty of recognisable portraits of his most famous muses and friends such as fashion icon Celia Birtwell, the curator Henry Geldzahler—dubbed the “most powerful and controversial art curator alive” by New York magazine—and the printer Maurice Payne who worked with Hockney on the etching suite illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C.P. Cavafy (1967).
The Blue Guitar portfolio, another sale highlight, illustrates how Hockney’s vision developed since his early innovations. While staying on Fire Island in 1976, Geldzahler prompted him to read the long poem by Wallace Stevens, The Man With the Blue Guitar (1937). This impressive tome, which looks to the Blue Period Picasso painting of 1903 entitled The Old Guitarist, sent Hockney down a rabbit hole.
In 1979, a suite of the Blue Guitar works were shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The MoMA press release highlights the neat stylistic route back to Picasso: “Utilising an ingenious colour-etching technique devised by Aldo Crommelynck, who printed Picasso’s etching for 25 years and in 1973 taught Hockney the new technique in Paris, the artist was able to spontaneously draw his images directly on to the copper plates.”
The publicity blurb also explains how the “poem deals with the never-ending conjunction between things as they are and things imagined”. Hockney ran with the idea. “The etchings themselves weren’t conceived as literal illustrations of the [Stevens] poem, but as an interpretation of its themes in visual terms,” he said, describing how imagination ran riot in the brilliant suite of 10 drawings and 20 prints.