Executed in 1972 and rendered in vibrant colour and careful detail, Onions is a magnificent example of David Hockney’s still life drawings.
In August 1970 in Carennac, while staying at the Kasmin’s chateau, and in July 1972 during a road trip through Corsica and Nice with Henry Geldzahler and Nicky Rea, Hockney spent many hours producing a series of coloured pencil drawings of fruit and vegetables. During this period Hockney travelled almost constantly, relishing the unfamiliar surroundings and exotic locations that he experienced, and his devotion to drawing was such that he was rarely seen without a sketchbook in hand.
Hockney spoke of this combination of travel and a constant desire to draw that so inspired his delight in drawing away from the studio: ‘I know some people think one leads a glamorous life, but I must admit I’ve never felt that myself. Even when you’re sat here in Hollywood with a swimming pool out there, I still feel my life is just as a working artist, actually. That’s the way I see it’ (D. Hockney, quoted in exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, David Hockney: A Drawing Retrospective, London, 1995, p. 130).
Onions was produced during this period of intense drawing, following Hockney’s split from Peter Schlesinger in the previous year. The onions become an object lesson, allowing the artist to carefully scrutinise his subject’s undulating texture and brightly coloured skin - executed in fine and delicate lines of coloured crayon. The isolated nature of the onions also suggests an air of solitude; a common theme for the artist at this time, seen in his unpopulated rooms and empty chairs.
Hockney's drawings, importantly, are not secondary works or preparatory drawings for paintings; rather, they are conceived as independent works of art in their own right, carefully executed over many hours. For Hockney, this committed looking is an important exercise in learning about and relating to the world around him, and drawing underpins all of his art. Onions perfectly illustrates Hockney's delight in the detailed observation of the everyday, demonstrating his ability to notice and capture his surroundings in an act which, whether melancholy or joyous, is always playful and technically brilliant.
Onions was a gift to Rupert and Robin Hambro from their friend, Annette de la Renta, Oscar de la Renta’s widow. A philanthropist, Mrs de la Renta serves on the board of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, amongst other major institutions.