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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection

The Conversation

The Conversation
signed, titled and dated 'The Conversation 1980 David Hockney' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 1980
Gilbert de Botton, London.
Private collection, Chicago (by 2002).
Private collection, Chicago (acquired from the above, 2012).
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2016.
S. Howgate and B. Stern Shapiro, David Hockney: Portraits, London, 2006, p. 29, no. 14 (illustrated).
M. Livingstone and K. Heymer, Hockney's Portraits and People, London, 2005 (illustrated on the cover).
M. Livingstone, David Hockney, London, 1996, p. 213, no. 162 (illustrated).
N. Stangos, David Hockney: That's the Way I See it, London, 1993, p. 48, no. 41 (illustrated).
P. Webb, "Hockney in Recline," The Observer, 16 October 1988, section 5, p. 5.
P. Webb, Portrait of David Hockney, New York, 1988, pp. 180 and 200.
C. Sykes, David Hockney: The Biography, 1975-2012, New York, 2014, p. 174.
New York, Rosenberg and Stiebel, Collecting at the Top: The Tate International Council, May-June 1988.
Tokyo, Odakyu Grand Gallery; Gunma, The Museum of Modern Art; Funabashi, The Seibu Museum and Osaka, Umeda Hankyu Gallery, David Hockney, April-October 1989 (illustrated, pl. 16).
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, British Figurative Painting of the 20th Century, November 1992-February 1993, pp. 53-54 (illustrated).
Chicago, Richard Gray Gallery, David Hockney: The Thrill is Spatial, November 2013-January 2014, pp. 9-10 (illustrated).
Seattle, Pivot Art + Culture, A Closer Look: Portraits from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, December 2016-March 2017.
Special notice
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Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

The Conversation is one of David Hockney’s famed double-portraits, paintings which he began in the 1960s and continued to produce throughout much of his career. They feature a selection of his friends—fellow artists, curators, writers, and fashion designers—resulting in a body of work that contains some of his most intimate paintings. Works such as Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-1971, Tate Gallery, London), American Collectors (Fred & Marcia Weisman) (1968, Art Institute of Chicago), and My Parents (1977, Tate Gallery, London) offer up an examination of the human condition and the contradictions inherent in human relationships. At the same time, The Conversation is also a painterly tour-de-force combining the artist’s unique style and his riotous use of color. The tensions inherent in both the spatial and psychological relationships on display are testament to Hockney’s reputation as one of contemporary art’s most accomplished painters, and an artist who taught us all again how to look at paintings.
In this evocative portrait, the curator Henry Geldzahler and the writer, curator, and editor Raymond Foye sit together, their eyes locked in an intense gaze. The positioning of Geldzahler’s body, leaning forward, his arm resting on his crossed leg, and Foye’s ponderous gaze would appear to indicate the pair have been caught in the midst of an engaging discussion, with Foye contemplating his response to Geldzahler’s vociferously put question. Such is Hockney’s skill as a painter that like the American artist Edward Hopper, the intensity of the discussion is almost palpable without hearing a word that is said. This sense of drama is enhanced by the setting, a somewhat plain room decorated with two mismatched chairs and a simple folding screen. The lack of decoration and "props" removes a layer of narrative, denying the viewer context and a chance to decipher what exactly is going on; as onlookers, our only option is to study the faces intently. As a consummate draughtsman, Hockney captures the shadows of the light falling across their features perfectly, leaving us with a lingering sense of intrigue.
At the time The Conversation was painted, Henry Geldzahler was Cultural Commissioner for New York City, having left his job as the first ever curator of twentieth-century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978. He was responsible for a number of landmark exhibitions at the museum including, in 1969, New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970, a groundbreaking survey that revolutionized the public perception of contemporary American art. He included over four hundred works by forty-three artists such as Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and Mark Rothko. He was also an early supporter of Pop Art, and Warhol famously claimed that Geldzahler gave him most of his good ideas, including that for his famous Death and Disaster series. “Everyone knew him," wrote Paul Richard, “He dined with the best people, Claes Oldenburg and others cast him in their happenings, his photo made the papers” (“The Painter and His Subject,” The Washington Post, 30 March 1979, p. 8). His friend Raymond Foye was a writer, curator, editor and publisher. In 1980, he had moved to New York where he worked for the Petersburg Press, supervising the fine art print division. It was here that Foye came into contact with many artists of the day including Johns, Lichtenstein and Hockney himself.
The present work was painted at a pivotal point in Hockney’s career, at a time when he embraced a bolder form of painting. “Van Gogh’s influence on Hockney can be seen in many pictures from this period… such as The Conversation with its bright yellow screen framing the figures and Henry Geldzahler and his new lover, the editor and publisher Raymond Foye,” writes the artist’s biographer Christopher Simon Sykes. “He began to use color at full strength and apply the paint in a much bolder fashion, making his brushstrokes more obvious” (David Hockney The Biography, 1975-2012: A Pilgrim’s Progress, London, 2014, p. 104). Hockney himself recognized this shift in his work, “I now realize sometimes I’ve been laboring over things, therefore not being expressive enough… Now what I have always longed to do was to be able to paint like I draw, most artists would tell you that, they would all like to paint like they can draw… I am beginning to find the way” (quoted in ibid., p. 105).
The intimate nature of Hockney’s portraits is derived from the fact that in most instances he was painting people he knew well. Like some of his near-contemporaries—other figurative artists such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud—Hockney has tended to take his subjects from the world around him. Early success led to a degree of security that meant he no longer needed commissions, meaning that—essentially—all his portraits were painted entirely for personal reasons.
Speaking in 1976, four years before the present work was painted, Hockney made a statement that seemed to foreshadow the new direction he was about to take. “The weakness of a lot of paintings today [is that their] emphasis has been totally on form and not on content. It seems to me that really great pictures—and I’m interested in making pictures—must achieve a balance” (David Hockney by David Hockney, London, 1976, p. 61). The Conversation succeeds on both counts; it is simultaneously a story and an essay on the technique of painting. In this work, Hockney crystalizes the purpose of the double portrait, locating the duality not only in his choice of subject matter, but also in his approach to pictorial representation itself.

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