This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
Is Hockney's double portrait the ultimate totem of the wild 60s art world?
A portion of Dennis Hopper’s 1963 photo depicting, (l to r) Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney.
One of the challenges facing Christie’s this Summer was how to proceed with the sale of the Barney Ebsworth collection when the auction house had agreed to try to sell David Hockney’s A Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) from the artist’s celebrated series of double portraits. The complication came in the form of one of the artist’s other double portraits, Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, which was among Ebsworth’s holdings.
The consignor of the Pool with Two Figures was determined to get a price never before achieved for a Hockney nor a living artist which pretty much determined that it would have to be sold in New York in November. No one believed the two paintings could be sold in the same week.
The Pool with Two Figures was a high-risk sale. It worked out. But had the painting sold poorly or been withdrawn, it might have affected the value of the Geldzahler portrait. Now that the Pool with Two Figures has set a record price, the question remains what is the right value for the Geldzahler portrait.
Christie’s announced late last week that the painting had a third-party guarantee and would be auctioned with an estimate in the region of £30m. At current exchange rates, That’s $37.5m only $9m more than one of the artist’s later landscapes. Part of the problem may be a lack of understanding about Henry Geldzahler’s importance to the history of American culture and as the emblematic figure of a particular moment in New York cultural history.
The seven double portraits portray a range of couples who were friends and relatives of the artist. The designer Ossie Clark and his wife Celia Birtwell are shown in a work entitled Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy—Percy being the couple’s cat. The writer Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy appear in another. The artist’s parents fill a third. Fred and Marcia Weisman are depicted in a painting entitled American Collectors. The Clarks and the artist’s parents are in the Tate along with George Lawson and Wayne Sleep. The Portrait of an Artist and Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott round out the series.
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