Last week, London’s Royal Opera House announced plans to sell David Hockney’s Portrait of Sir David Webster (1971) at Christie’s to alleviate financial strain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Estimated at £11 million–£18 million ($14.2 million–$23.2 million), the work depicts the former general administrator of the Royal Opera house Sir David Webster. It will go up for sale on October 22 during Christie’s upcoming London postwar and contemporary evening sale.
The Royal Opera House, which is also home to the Royal Ballet, acquired the work directly from the artist. Hockney was commissioned for the portrait at the time of Webster’s retirement after 25 years in his senior position. The painting is among the few commissioned works by the artist. Another includes a 2002 watercolor portrait of Sir George and Lady Mary Christie of Glyndebourne, which resides at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Portrait of Sir David Webster was included in the 2006 traveling showcase “David Hockney Portraits,” which went to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery in London. Most recently, it was exhibited this year at the Lightbox in “David Hockney: Ways of Working” in Woking, England.
In a statement, Alex Beard, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, said, “As we face the biggest crisis in our history, the sale of David Hockney’s wonderful portrait of Sir David Webster is a vital part of our strategy for recovery, and the proceeds will be used to ensure that the world’s greatest artists can once more return to our stages.” The work’s sale is a part of a four-part recovery plan that includes staff restructuring and cost reductions, an audience and members fundraising campaign, and government aid.
“Painted at the height of Hockney’s naturalistic phase, so profoundly demonstrated in his double portraits of this time, we see the artist’s expert handling of light and shade: the way that cloth drapes around the body, how light passes through glass, reflects off curved stainless steel,” said Katherine Arnold, Christie’s co-head of post-war and contemporary art in Europe in a statement on the work.
The present work recalls Hockney’s double portrait of Met curator and his partner Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969), also featuring a glass table and vase of tulips, which sold during Christie’s in London in March 2019 for £37.7 million ($49.4 million). Just a few months prior, Christie’s sold Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972, for a staggering $90.3 million during the houses’s New York contemporary art evening sale in November 2019, setting the artist’s current record.