Double East Yorkshire, executed in 1998, is one of the most stunning and evocative of David Hockney’s remarkable depictions of his home county: a glorious paean to a landscape that the artist had first discovered during his teenage years. A pivotal example of Hockney’s later work, Double East Yorkshire is undoubtedly the most important landscape painting by the artist to appear at auction, and its position as a seminal painting within Hockney's oeuvre has been repeatedly recognised through inclusion in several recent exhibitions of his work, including the highly important survey of Hockney’s landscapes at the Royal Academy in London in 2012 (which later travelled to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne) as well as the major Espace/Paysage show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris in 1999. 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 at the extent of our viewline. A glimpse of a gloriously empty road can be seen at the left of the image, winding serenely through the contours of the landscape. Hockney poured his love and fascination with these freshly discovered 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: Exhibition Catalogue, 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.
Hockney had first come to know the area as a teenager when he had spent 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” (the artist, cited 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 came to act as 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, returning every three months to visit his mother and take her out for long drives across the Wolds. It was also during this period that Hockney began to make daily visits to a gravely ill friend, Jonathan Silver, a long-time ardent champion of the artist’s painting and owner of Salts Mill in Saltaire, an exhibition space devoted exclusively to Hockney’s work. These visits involved driving from his mother’s home in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, to Wetherby in the West, a journey that imprinted every contour of the landscape indelibly on the artist’s memory. Double East Yorkshire arose from this unique 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, ‘The Road Less Travelled,’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Royal Academy, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, 2012, p. 26).
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 – but the unspoilt beauty of a landscape 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, Double East Yorkshire was painted on Hockney’s return to California, based on sketches and the artist’s own memories of driving through the countryside, taking in the sweeping vista of the hills and fields through his car window. Peter Doig, part of the next generation of British landscape artists, similarly painted scenes gleaned from his Canadian childhood whilst studying in London, as though attempting to recreate positive memories of a distant time and place. The result is a gently idealised version of the landscape as Hockney imbued the scene with vestiges of his emotional attachment to the place: a connection that was becoming ever more powerful due to the ties of family and friendship. The luminescent colours which seem to emanate from the double canvases are redolent, in their vibrancy, of the brilliant light of Hockney’s earlier Californian landscapes: the artist’s amalgamation of Californian sunshine with the soft contours of the Wolds engenders a uniquely personal evocation of these timeless surroundings.
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 extravagantly thick impasto of the paint surface and the swirling curves of the brushstrokes. The intense colouration found within the work of the Fauve artists was also a source of inspiration: the bright purple contrasting with the acid green of the near fields within Double East Yorkshire being reminiscent in tone to the hues found within the paintings of André Derain or Henri Matisse. Hockney’s panoramic vision of the Wolds is projected with impressive impetus through the combination of two large canvases, anticipating the vast landscapes that the artist was later to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 2012 in which as many as fifty canvases were combined together to support the recreation of the wide open spaces that characterise this area of Yorkshire. Hockney relished the creative potentials of painting on such an expansive scale, fully utilising the technical possibilities provided by oil paint: a medium he particularly enjoyed working in. Hockney’s intense connection with the scene depicted elevates this serene pastoral landscape to the level of a Romantic era glorification of the Sublime within nature: an epic homage to an ordinary part of the world granted artistic immortality through this sweepingly panoramic celebration on canvas by one of the greatest British artists of the Twentieth Century.