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Four Different Kinds of Water

Four Different Kinds of Water
signed 'Hockney' (on the reverse of the left canvas); signed again 'Hockney' (on the reverse of the second canvas from left)
acrylic on canvas, in four parts
Each: 14 x 10 in. (35.6 x 25.4 cm.)
Painted in 1967
Kasmin, Ltd., London.
Tony Richardson, London (acquired from the above, by 1969).
Private collection, Los Angeles (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1999.
V. S. Naipaul, “Escape from the Puritain Ethic" in Daily Telegraph Magazine, 10 December 1971.
N. Stangos, ed., David Hockney by David Hockney, My Early Years, London, 1976, p. 301, no. 195 (illustrated, p. 162).
N. Stangos, ed., Pictures by David Hockney, London, 1979, p. 56 (illustrated).
D. Hockney, Hockney’s Pictures, London, 2004, p. 360 (illustrated in color, pp. 68-69).
M. Gayford, A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney, New York, 2011, p. 244 (illustrated in color, p. 196).
D. Hockney, David HockneyA Bigger Book: Chronology, Cologne, 2016, p. 90.
New York, Landau-Alan Gallery, New Paintings and Drawings, March-April 1967.
Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, Paintings and Prints by David Hockney, February-March 1969, no. 24.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960-1970, April-May 1970 (illustrated, p. 64, pl. 67.3).
Kestner-Gesellschaft Hannover, David Hockney, May-June 1970, p. 33 (illustrated, no. 40).
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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

David Hockney’s paintings of swimming pools are among the most iconic works of the post-war canon. Along with Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book-inspired canvases, they capture the exuberance of the age when Pop Art was born. Yet, as much as they are a celebration of pop culture, Hockney’s California inspired paintings are also a response to one of the most difficult technical challenges faced by artists: that of how to paint water. Executed the same year as A Bigger Splash (1967, Tate Gallery, London), Four Different Kinds of Water is comprised of four elements, each of which responds directly to that challenge. Ripples, shadows, reflections, and even the mass of the body of water itself are all reflected here in new and bold ways, they are Hockney’s solutions to the challenges that he relishes, and a triumph of both visual aesthetics and painterly technique.
Each of the four intimately scaled canvases depicts fundamentally the same scene: an almost abstract view of a swimming pool complete with the accoutrements needed for a fun day in the water. Yet each presents a radically different view of that subject and of the qualities and characteristics of what is essentially a colorless and amorphous form. In order to meet the challenge, Hockney depicts the play of light and the reflections on both the surface of the pool and on the body of water below. Thus we see the undulating ripples of the water as they lap against the edge of the pool, the dark shadows cast by the sides, and the edge of the pool in the water below, the fading sunlight as it tries to penetrate the depths of the water, and, finally, the shadows that dance across the bottom of the pool caused by the ripples on the surface. While Hockney has ostensibly painted a swimming pool, he has also painted something so much more: “The swimming pool paintings I did were about transparency: how would you paint water… The swimming pool, unlike the pond, reflects light. Those dancing lines I used to paint on the pools are really on the surface of the water. It was a graphic challenge” (quoted in M. Gayford, A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney, New York, 2011, p. 195).
The origins of Hockney’s iconic subject can be found in 1964, when he made his first trip to California. At the age of just 26 he had traveled from the UK, and as his plane descended into LAX airport he was overwhelmed by a sense of anticipation and excitement. “I remember flying in on an afternoon, and as we flew in over Los Angeles I looked down to see blue swimming pools all over, and I realized that a swimming pool in England would have been a luxury, whereas here they are not…" (quoted in C. Simon Sykes, David Hockney The Biography 1937-1975: A Rake's Progress, London, 2011, p. 142). He had reached what he regarded as the promised land.
“Hockney’s fascination,” writes Nikos Stangos, “was… bringing together many of the themes he most loved: the paradox of freezing in a still image what is never still, water, the swimming pool, this man-made container of nature, set in nature which it reflects, the play of light in water…” A consummate student of art history, Hockney would also have been fully aware that it was a task that had also occupied the minds of many of his artistic heroes. “The challenge to his imagination and creative ability of mastering a new technique, learning its limitations, accepting these limitations and transcending them is the same as that which has provided the fuel in all new phases of his work” (David Hockney: Paper Pools, New York, 1980, pp. 5-6).
Hockney’s paintings of swimming pools have become some of the most loved canvases of his career. Four Different Kinds of Water takes the level of technical achievement of these paintings and builds on it a step further and in the process, introduces a whole new level of interest to these works. They are a demonstration of Hockney’s constant desire to innovate and invigorate the medium of painting, and prove once again why he is one of the most important painters of his generation.

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