Phillips has unveiled plans to auction a $35 million David Hockney landscape this winter. Nichols Canyon (1980) will hit the block during the house’s 20th century and contemporary art evening sale in New York on December 7. The work will go on view at Phillips in London from October 26–November 1, and will then make appearances in Hong Kong and New York.
Hockney made the seven-by-five-foot canvas following his move to Los Angeles in 1978. The present work is one of two monumental works Hockney executed in the 1970s. The counterpart, a horizontal landscape painted from memory Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, is held by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Like Nichols Canyon, that work depicts a scene glimpsed along his drive from Hollywood Hills to his Santa Monica Boulevard studio.
Made in a style influenced by Fauvism and Cubism, the present canvas is divided down the middle by a thick black line. The present work showcases the artist’s preoccupation with representing movement and the passage of time.
The piece comes to auction from the collection of its sole private owner, where it has resided for four decades, since its purchase in 1982. Hockney traded the piece along with a second canvas, a double portrait called The Conversation (1980), with New York dealer André Emmerich in exchange for a $135,000 Picasso. The work was later included in both of his traveling retrospectives, the first in 1988 at LACMA, and the next in 2017–18, at the Tate London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’ deputy chairman and co-head of 20th century and contemporary art, said in a statement, “Nichols Canyon is, without question, the most significant landscape by Hockney to ever appear at auction.”
Following two major recent retrospectives and a top auction records, Hockney has rapidly ascended in the art market. His double portrait Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969), from the Barney Ebsworth collection, sold for £37.7 million ($49.4 million) at Christie’s London in March 2019. 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 in New York in November 2019, setting the artist’s current record. Most recently, London’s Royal Opera House sold a commissioned Hockney portrait of Sir David Webster from 1971 for $16.8 million during a Christie’s London contemporary art evening sale last week. Hockney also holds the second-highest price for a Western artist at auction in Asia; his 30 Sunflowers (1996) sold for $14.8 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in July.
Hockney’s figurative works have commanded his highest auction prices. No landscape works of this scale by Hockney have ever been sold with a price tag as high as the one Phillips has placed on Nichols Canyon.
Sales of other outdoor scenes by the artist made around the same time as the present work include Canyon Painting (1978), which sold for $3 million in November 2014 at Sotheby’s, and Santa Monica Boulevard (1978), which sold for $2.8 million this past October at Christie’s.