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A Rake's Progress

A Rake's Progress
the complete set of sixteen etchings with aquatint in black and red, on Crisbrook Royal Hotpress paper, 1961-63, each signed in pencil and numbered 49 of 50 (there were also ten artist's proof sets), published by Editions Alecto in association with the Royal College of Art, London, loose (as issued), with the title, artist's statement and justification pages, each with full margins, in very good condition, together with the original red linen-covered portfolio and black slipcase, with the title in gilt, framed
Overall: 25 1/2 x 20 x 1 in. (648 x 508 x 25 mm.)
Scottish Arts Council 17-32; Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo 12-27
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Lindsay Griffith
Lindsay Griffith Head of Department

Lot Essay

On 9 July 1961, his twenty-fourth birthday, David Hockney boarded a plane to New York. It was his first visit to America, made possible by his winning Robert Erskine's annual printmaking award of 100 for Three Kings and a Queen.

Describing his first impressions of the city, Hockney recalled:

"I was taken by the sheer energy of the place. It was amazingly sexy, and unbelievably easy. People were much more open, and I felt completely free. The city was a total twenty-four hour city. Greenwich Village was never closed, the bookshops were open all night so you could browse, the gay life was much more organised, and I thought, 'This is the place for me'" (David Hockney, May 2010, quoted in: Christopher Simon Sykes, Hockney: The Biography, Century, London, 2011, p. 96-97).

When Hockney returned to London in September 1961, sporting bleached blonde hair and a crew-cut, he embarked on a series of prints, a re-imagining of William Hogarth's celebrated A Rake's Progress, in which he cast himself as the anti-hero.

"My original intention was to do eight etchings, to take Hogarth's titles and somehow play with them and set it in New York. What I liked was telling a story just visually. Hogarth's original story has no words, it's a graphic tale. You have to interpret it all. So I thought, this is what I will do." (David Hockney by David Hockney, Thames & Hudson, London, p. 91).

When Robert Darwin, the Chancellor of the Royal College of Art, heard of the project he proposed that it be published under the RCA imprint, the Lion and Unicorn Press, under the proviso that the number of plates be increased to twenty-four. This proved unworkable and Hockney finally settled on the sixteen plates used for the final edition. The project was later financed and co-published by Paul Cornwall-Jones, of Editions Alecto, whom Hockney met in 1963.

The resulting portfolio follows the adventures and changing fortunes of a young gay man in a city, partly based on Hogarth's original and partly autobiographical.

"The Gospel singing with the Good people wearing ties with 'God is Love' on them is based on a trip I made to Madison Square Gardens to hear Mahalia Jackson, and there was a choir jumping up and down singing 'God is Love.' It was amazing, pure Americana. 'The Door Opening for the Blonde' was the Lady Clairol advert. 'Receiving the Inheritance' was selling etchings to the Museum of Modern Art. 'Bedlam', right at the end, is when they're all plugged into the first radio transistor. I'd seen these people with ear plugs, and I thought they were hearing aids, like my father used to wear. In fact they were the first transistor radios, which you wouldn't have got in England then. So it was a combination of things that happened to me" (David Hockney, May 2010, quoted in: Christopher Simon Sykes, Hockney: The Biography, Century, London, 2011, p. 101-102).

The moral decline of Hogarth's character is parodied by Hockney's rake, who falls out of favor with the 'good people' when his wallet empties, whereupon he is cast aside and descends into the world of the 'other people,' the Bedlam of the mindless masses, tuned into the public radio station WABC.

Completed in 1963 A Rake's Progress was exhibited at the Print Centre off Church Street in Kensington at the same time as Hockney's first one man show Paintings with People at the Kasmin Gallery in New Bond Street. It was met with unanimous critical acclaim, and with the money from the sales of the prints Hockney decided to re-locate to California the following year.

The late Mark Glazebrook, in his foreword to Hockney's first retrospective at the Whitechapel in 1970, described the very distinctive quality of Hockney's early work, of which The Rake's Progress is amongst his finest:

"Nothing is so ridiculous, so self-defeating and so unfunny as putting wit and humor under the microscope, but it may be worth observing that Hockney's ability to contain wit and humor in his work, without losing its quality is itself a considerable feat." (David Hockney: Paintings, prints and drawings 1960-1970, The Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1970, p. 6)

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