Lake House, Como, Rain was painted during an Easter visit with his friend Drue Heinz, the widow of the heir to the Heinz food empire. Mrs. Heinz frequently hosted groups of writers and artists in her castello on the shore of Lake Como for a series of artistic discussions she called conversazioni. A fellow guest, the late biographer Jeremy Lewis, recalled that it was a cold, wet April. Yet “despite the rain, David Hockney painted every day on the terrace, perched under an umbrella, the occasional raindrop adding verisimilitude to his watercolors. He smoked incessantly, was deaf as a post, and talked wonderfully well about every subject known to man and wore flamboyant check suits with huge pockets in the lining from which he withdrew brushes, paints, a sketchbook and a collapsible canvas bucket […]” (Jeremy Lewis cited in: Christopher Simon Sykes, David Hockney: The Biography 1975-2012, New York 2012, p. 359).
The present work evokes the dramatic colors and landscapes of post-Impressionists like Henri Matisse and Vincent Van Gogh, with only the car and the drainpipe bringing the composition into the Twenty-First Century. The rolling hills, ancient trees, and lush gardens of the Heinz estate are depicted in countless shades of green. The multi-colored lawn to the right, with the strong delineation between yellow green and nearly brown green, is painted as if from far above; the left side is so detailed one can imagine Hockney leaning over the terrace, nearly in the shrubs himself. The rain is falling horizontally in the strong lines the artist had explored in his 1973 Weather Series. They cut straight through the organic brushes of paint that form the rest of the landscape, and, along with the corner house to the far right, provide the only straight lines in the flowing composition.
Ann Upton met Hockney in 1960 when she was sixteen and he was twenty-three. Hockney was a student at the Royal College of Art and she lived nearby; they became friends “because we both travelled the same way and we were both vegetarians” (Ann Graves cited in: Natalie Hanman, “He can see deeper than the skin,” The Guardian, 8 September 2006, p. 15). Ann soon began modelling for the Royal College and started modelling for Hockney in 1962. The artist was drawn to her long, fiery red hair, which was especially evocative as he wrote his 1962 thesis on Fauvism.
The deep, decades-long friendship between Ann and Hockney is evident in his portrayals of her. She is among a select few women in the artist’s life whom he has depicted multiple times, alongside his mother and textile designer Celia Birtwell. Hockney drew the present work as a Christmas gift in 1975, dedicating it to Ann and her future husband David Graves. David had met Hockney earlier in the year at the opening night of The Rake’s Progress at the Glyndebourne Opera, which Hockney had designed. David soon became Hockney’s assistant and, in 1983, Hockney was the couple’s impromptu wedding photographer when Ann and David decided to get married during a holiday in Hawaii. Ann is portrayed here affectionately, sitting casually on a couch looking away from the viewer. She smiles softly and her eyes are almost covered by the thick red hair that had enchanted Hockney fifteen years prior. Ann sits in various stages of completion, with zones of blue, black and green guiding the eye up to her carefully shaded face and red fringe. Portraits, especially those of close friends and family, have endured as a central tenet of Hockney’s oeuvre, and Portrait of Ann Upton, Christmas is an intimate portrayal of one of the artist’s oldest and dearest friends.
Hockney drew Beirut in early 1966 during a trip to the Lebanese capital. He was to create a set of etchings, Illustrations from Fourteen Poems from C. P. Cavafy, and needed to make preparatory sketches. Hockney had long adored the writings of the Greek Egyptian poet for their bold, unapologetic explorations of homosexual desire. Cavafy (1863–1933) had written in the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria; by 1966, Beirut had replaced it as the capital of sophistication in the region, and so Hockney thought it the best place to draw inspiration from Cavafy’s world. Homosexuality would not be decriminalized in England (where Hockney was still living at the time) for another year, and his illustrations of Cavafy’s erotic poems served as a defense of his own way of living.
The present preparatory drawing would come to serve as a backdrop for Hockney’s Portrait of Cavafy in Alexandria, the first work in the set of thirteen. The series “was conceived almost entirely in terms of line and contained some of the artist’s most accomplished line drawings to that date” (Terry Riggs, “David Hockney: Portrait of Cavafy in Alexandria,” Tate, November 1997 (online)). The drawing depicts a tall building, perhaps a hotel or an office, standing at the top of a hill. A wall with rounded openings stretches out from its side and the front is dotted by dark palm trees. More buildings to the right give a tantalizing glimpse of the city expanding behind it, waiting to be explored. The lines are evocative and pared down, alluring in their seeming simplicity. The artist once noted that “In drawing I’ve always thought economy of means was a great quality—not always in painting, but always in drawing. It’s breathtaking in Rembrandt, Picasso, and van Gogh. To achieve that is hard work, but stimulating: finding how to reduce everything you’re looking at to just lines—lines that contain volume in between them” (the artist cited in: Martin Gayford, A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney, New York 2011, pp. 189-90). Hockney’s drawing is legible as an exotic, cosmopolitan city even without the portrait of beloved poet in the foreground, demonstrating again his mastery of line and form.
The intimacy of the present works offers direct access to Hockney’s creative process and conceptual framework. Their decades-long span bespeaks his lifelong exploration of friendship, love, cities, the countryside, art history, media and color.
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