Introspective and somber, his gaze cast down as if to shield himself from the incessant drizzle of rain, the solitary Yves-Marie strides over the Pont des Arts, his steps muffled by rainfall. Streaks of rain jog across the painted surface in quick, fleeting zigzags of blue and white brushstrokes that recall the vigorous scribbles of Cy Twombly’s blackboard paintings and obscure the narrative beneath. Beyond the sight line of the bridge, the city of Paris dissolves into a rainy abyss of blurred pinks, greens, and blues. Flattening form and simplifying figuration, Hockney renders Yves-Marie in his signature reductive draftsmanship, the artificiality of his figure establishing an emotional distance between the viewer and his subject which, coupled with the lack of clear narrative context, heightens the painting’s psychological intrigue. Rendered in muted reds and yellows, the warm hues of Yves-Marie’s clothing sharply contrast against the cool blues, whites, and greens that dominate the rest of the composition, further isolating and emphasizing the lone figure. In contrast to his soft rendering of Yves-Marie, Hockney meticulously hones in on each ornate detail of the Pont des Arts. The precise geometry of the bridge, coupled with the streaks of rain that traverse the canvas, imbue the composition as a whole with a sharp organizational structure and strong sense of geometric line; this pervading geometric abstraction is reinforced by the reflective surface of the wet bridge, which echoes the bridge’s sharp lines.
While Hockney had already received significant international acclaim by the early 1970s – he enjoyed his first well-received retrospective exhibition in London in 1969 – the young artist entered this second decade of his career mired in introspection and plagued with doubt regarding his artistic practice. Seeking clarity and resolution, Hockney fled the London art scene and moved to Paris in the fall of 1973. His time in France proved immensely restorative, providing Hockney with the space he needed to reevaluate his artistic intentions and reground himself. It was in Paris where Hockney, influenced and inspired by the rich culture and heritage of the city, established for himself a new pictorial vocabulary that fused art historical precedent with innovative creativity, informing the revolutionary artistic legacy that Hockney would continue to forge for decades to come. Reflecting on his time spent in Paris, Hockney recalls: “What I was doing [in Paris] was looking back, reading and looking at pictures. I spent a lot of time in the Louvre and got to know it quite well. […] I lived quietly in Paris, drawing friends, sitting in cafes” (David Hockney, That’s the Way I See it, London 1993, p. 17). Drawing inspiration from his activities in Paris - often with Yves-Marie as a companion - Hockney approached his work at the time with a newly refined grasp of his art historical precedent; indeed, his immersion into French culture led Hockney into conversation with his artistic forebears, and his paintings from this period owe a great debt to such painterly masters as Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso. Hockney recalls that through his regular visits to the Louvre: “I was, in a way, looking at art of the long past, and at early modern art, which of course was made in Paris. And then, of course, there was constantly the thought of Picasso.” (David Hockney, That's the Way I See It, London, 1993, pp. 19-20). In his biography of the artist, Peter Webb writes of present work “of Yves-Marie walking across the Pont des Arts to the Louvre in the pouring rain shows a strong influence from Seurat.” (Peter Webb, Portrait of David Hockney, New York, 1988, pp. 38-39) Thematically and stylistically, Yves-Marie in the Rain is indebted to the post-Impressionists; Hockney’s concern with capturing the fleeting, momentary essence of rainfall as an emotive, atmospheric quality recalls his predecessors’ interest in conveying on canvas such ephemeral, transitory qualities as fog, steam, and rain to enhance the viewer’s impression of a specific moment and place; indeed, the setting of a Parisian bridge was adopted by numerous 19th century Parisian painters before him who were interested in capturing the modern zeitgeist of the city.
Hockney’s paintings of people - especially those of his most intimate lovers and friends - form a crucial element of his practice, integrated into his shifting palettes, styles, and modes of production over the course of his decades-long career. Yves-Marie in the Rain is from arguably the most significant period of Hockney’s portraiture and was executed simultaneously with a suite of seven large-scale double portraits painted between 1968 and 1975 that have come to stand among the most iconic and significant paintings in the artist's oeuvre. Aside from being a portrait of Yves-Marie, the present composition also provides an extraordinary example of what is arguably Hockney’s most iconic motif, water. As was his standard practice in approaching his large-scale portrait paintings, Hockney methodically conceptualized and composed the present work, first by taking numerous photographs and then planning out the final composition through preliminary sketches. In Yves-Marie in the Rain, Hockney’s reliance on photographic source material anchors the narrative in the mimetic world. Yves-Marie recalled of the present work: “Hockney was planning a painting which would sum up the romance of Paris, and made [me] pose on the bridge in the rain for endless photographs.” (Peter Webb, Portrait of David Hockney, New York, 1988, pp. 38-39) Through a conflation of photographic source material and emotional experience, an acute awareness of perspective, and an attention to art historical precedent, Hockney creates a painting that is wholly mesmeric, saturated with a sense of nostalgic yearning and psychological depth that draws the viewer irresistibly into its web of sensorial and visual allusions. It is this genius in expertly translating the complexity of human emotion and place onto canvas, conceiving of landscape and narrative through the prism of memory, that distinguishes Hockney as one of the greatest artists of the Post War period.
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