Lot 9
  • 9

David Hockney

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • David Hockney
  • A Small Sunbather
  • signed, titled, inscribed This painting belongs to Peter Schlesinger with love from David H and dated Los Angeles 1967 on the reverse
  • acrylic on linen
  • 51 by 40.8cm.
  • 20 by 16in.
acrylic on canvas, signed, dedicated, titled and dated This painting belongs to Peter Schlesinger with love from David. Los Angeles 1967A Small Sunbather (on the reverse)


Peter Schlesinger, Los Angeles (a gift from the artist in 1967)
André Emmerich Gallery Inc., New York
Knoedler Gallery, London
Kasmin Gallery, London
Sale: Christie's, New York, 20th Century Art, 10 May 2000, Lot 682
Acquired directly from the above by the late owner


New York, Landau-Alan Gallery, David Hockney, New Paintings and Drawings, 1967, no. 7
Tokyo, Odakyu Grand Gallery; Gunma, The Museum of Modern Art; Chiba, The Seibu Museum, Funabashi; Osaka, Umeda Hankyu Gallery, David Hockney, 1989, no. 11, illustrated in colour
Rotterdam, Boymans-van-Beuningen, David Hockney: Paintings and Photographs of Paintings, 1996


Exhibition Catalogue, London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, David Hockney. Paintings, prints and drawings 1960-1970, no. 66.3


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the tonality of the canvas border is slightly lighter in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There is very light discolouration to the outside edges of the canvas due to its previous frame and very minor wear to all four corner tips. Very close inspection reveals extremely faint dripmarks towards the bottom of the canvas resulting from the artist's application of varnish to the surface, which is original and inherent to the artist's choice of media and working process. No restoration is visible under ultraviolet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note


Stanley Seeger - a quiet, immensely private man - was one of the greatest collectors of his generation, operating in highly diverse fields. The golden age of his collecting began in the late 1970s, when he inherited his fortune and met his lifetime partner Christopher Cone. Over the course of a year he moved to Sutton Place, the great Tudor mansion previously belonging to J. Paul Getty; underbid Turner’s ‘Juliet and her Nurse’ at $6.4 million, which was then the most valuable painting ever sold at auction; and acquired a remarkable Bacon Triptych, which controversially he hung in the Great Hall at Sutton Place. The scope of his collection gradually widened to embrace – besides his great love Picasso - outstanding examples by a variety of artists, including Braque, Beckmann, Miro, Jasper Johns and David Hockney.

Over the last 30 years, Christopher and Stanley both enjoyed building collections of works they loved. When complete they often moved on and the result was a succession of resoundingly successful sales in New York, London and Milan.

Over the next nine months Sotheby’s are offering a fascinating assembly of diverse and high-quality paintings, drawings and works of art which Christopher and Stanley chose not to part with in Stanley’s lifetime.

Small Sunbather delivers a resplendent illustration of what is arguably David Hockney’s most iconic motif within his long and varied ouevre; the swimming pool. The great symbol of California's outdoor pleasures– a very exotic and sumptuous object for a young man from Bradford- the swimming pool plays a central role in Hockney's output from 1963-1967. Executed the very same year as A Bigger Splash (1967) (Tate, London), which arguably remains the artist’s most celebrated painting, the present work delivers a highly resolved composition that evolves from a sign of comfort and affluence to a formal device for the depiction of light and reflective surfaces.

By 1967, Hockney had long been enthralled with Los Angeles, since he first arrived at the beginning of 1964. As the artist later reflected, "California did affect me very strongly...I instinctively knew I was going to like it. And as I flew over San Bernardino and saw the swimming pools and the houses and everything and the sun, I was more thrilled than I have ever been in arriving in any city'' (the artist interviewed by Martin Glazebrook: Exhibition Catalogue, London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, David Hockney Paintings, prints and drawings 1960-1970, 1970, p. 11). In California, Hockney cultured the quintessence of a fantasy comprised of an uninhibited life of athletic young men, swimming pools, palm trees and perpetual sunshine. As Paul Melia notes, Hockney’s paintings “… of male nudes climbing in or out of swimming pools, sleeping by the pools edge, or floating on inflatable beds appear to represent a return to a pre-modern world of sensuality and plenty, a second Eden” (Paul Melia and David Luckhardt, David Hockney, London 2011, p. 58). Indeed, Hockney’s interest in water and swimming pools allowed him to extend the European tradition of the depiction of classical beauties bathing, set harmoniously within a utopian landscape; a long standing theme within the history of Western art that has captivated Renaissance and Modern masters alike; from Titan and Rembrandt to Cézanne and Matisse. The present work revisits Hockney’s 1966 painting Sunbather (Museum Ludwig, Cologne), which took its source from a photograph taken by Hockney of a swimming pool and an image of a sunbather taken from a magazine. Here the naked sunbather lies passive, sprawled in a sun-induced slumber, absent of facial features. The subject thus retains his anonymity and further establishes this work, not as the representation of a specific person, time or place, but a re-interpretation of the aforementioned classical utopian fantasy.

As such, for Hockney, the swimming pool represented the embodiment of this tranquil land of affluence and leisure and he embarked on meticulous observations of the water he saw, furthermore it allowed the artist to tackle the graphic difficulties of light, depth, transparency and reflection. Unlike earlier works such as Two Boys in a Pool, Hollywood (1965) and Swimming Pool (1965) where the water is depicted through an abstract tapestry of blue and white tones, Small Sunbather has a different kind of water. The hyper-stylised, patterning of the swimming pool conveys the idea of the sun shining through, while the lyrical abstract pattern here exemplifies Hockney’s technical fascination of how to render water and its reflections. Having briefly experimented with acrylics in London, with the use of superior American acrylics Hockney mastered their painterly application. Their quick drying properties allowed him the freedom to not only focus on one work at a time, but additionally this allowed him to emphasise the pre-eminence of the image by applying them as a smooth surface of flat and brilliant colour, recalling the Fauvist style of Matisse's The Bather. Where Matisse represents the deep-blue of the Mediterranean in a vivid expanse of flat, rich colour, in contrast Hockney's use of a wider palette of colours, curving interweaving lines of violet, yellow and green, accentuate the play of light reflected upon the ever-changing surface of the swimming pool. As the artist explained, “Water in swimming pools changes its look more than in any other form…But the look of swimming pools is controllable - even its colour can be manmade - and its dancing rhythms reflect not only the sky but, because of its transparency the depth of water as well. So I had to use techniques to represent this. If the water surface is almost still and there is a strong sun, then dancing lines with the colours of the spectrum appear everywhere” (Nikos Stangos, Ed., David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1976, p.104).

Via a supreme execution of draughtsmanship, Small Sunbather eloquently summates the vision of the Californian idyll that so captivated the artist. As he simply recalled, “Swimming pools I’ve always liked as things. I like swimming in blue swimming pools in sunny Hollywood. But water is done in quite different ways. Sometimes I did it very formally, other times its done more naturalistically… the way the light would dance on the water. And really the paintings about water are about movement aren’t they?” (the artist interviewed by Martin Glazebrook: Exhibition catalogue, London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, Op. cit., 1970, p. 13).