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David Hockney (b. 1937)
David Hockney (b. 1937)

Untitled (Family Portraits from El Gran Teatro)

Details
David Hockney (b. 1937)
Untitled (Family Portraits from El Gran Teatro)
acrylic on canvas
45 ½ x 137 ¾ in. (115.6 x 349.9 cm.)
Painted in 1984.
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Brought to you by

Rachael White
Rachael White

Lot Essay

Since the earliest days of his artistic life, David Hockney’s work has consistently returned to, and frequently relied upon, the theater. When the painter was a boy, his father brought him to the theater every Saturday, where he was impressed by the lavishness and spectacle of even modest productions. Hockney was first tapped to design costumes and sets for a 1966 production of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, a project which he treated as a logical extension of his rapidly developing painting practice. Even before embarking on the project, Hockney’s paintings referred to the stage directly and indirectly. His 1963 painting Play Within a Play, for example, is a self-portrait with the artist, standing on a stage in front of a curtain, pushed up against a sheet of Plexiglas affixed to the picture. Indeed, a large amount of his early paintings conformed to this stage-like format, with one or two characters contained within a tightly defined space. By the 1980s, Hockney’s work had shed the tender realism of his 1970s canvases for a Cubism-meets-Fauvism style characterized by flattened perspectives and bold, saturated colors.

Despite the change in style, Hockney remained steadfast in his commitment to opera and the optics of the theater. In 1983, the Walker Art Center organized an overview of his contributions to stage design, "Hockney Paints the Stage". Interior with Family Portraits was painted on site when this exhibition traveled to the Museo de Tamayo in Mexico City in 1984. When Hockney arrived to oversee the installation, his enthusiasm for the institution inspired him to coordinate children's plays to be shown in conjunction. The present work is based on Hockney's production of Maurice Ravel's L'Enfant et les sortilèges, part of a triple-bill production called Parade, which the artist conceived for the Metropolitan Opera in 1980.

Boasting a classic 1980s Hockney palette, Family Portrait with Interiors depicts the space above and around a mantle place. A deep blue ceiling with crimson rafters frames the mason-clad hearth, along with a turquoise wall on which the titular family portraits hang. Three softly rendered pink faces surround a mustachioed patriarch, honored by an ornate black frame. Below them is a shelf holding simple, utilitarian pottery, and at their left is an open window with hot-pink curtains. Evoking the lighthearted surrealism of the opera – a petulant, destructive child is reprimanded, and later forgiven, by the abused inanimate objects in his room – Hockney’s scene is at-once specific and broadly applicable. Originally set in Normandy, Hockney’s version hints at its Mexican production, underscoring the opera’s universal, fable-like quality.

Interior with Family Portraits is not only an important example of Hockney’s work for the stage, but of his mid-career output more broadly. A salient example of the suggestive capabilities of Hockney’s fauve palette which he continues to use, the present work makes a powerful argument for this pivotal period in the artist’s long, celebrated career.

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