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Property from an Important Private American Collection

Woldgate Tree, May

Woldgate Tree, May
signed, titled and dated 'Woldgate Tree May 21 2006 David Hockney' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 36 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in 2006.
Annely Juda Fine Art, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2006
London, Annely Juda Fine Art, David Hockney - A Year in Yorkshire, September-October 2006.
London, Royal Academy of Arts; Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum and Cologne, Ludwig Museum, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, January 2012-February 2013, p. 129, no. 53 (illustrated).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Bursting with painterly energy, David Hockney’s Woldgate Tree, May belongs to a series of landscapes that the artist painted of his native Yorkshire. In 2002, after spending prolonged periods living and working in California, Hockney began to spend more time in an area of England known as the East Riding, a place which subsequently became one of his most important subjects and almost exclusively the focus of his painterly activities. The resulting canvases were a revelation; fluid lines and bold fauve-like colors rendered gently rolling fields and hills with a dynamic sense of beauty and energy. In reinvigorating the art of landscape painting, Hockney was following in the noble tradition of other esteemed painters such as Claude Lorraine, John Constable, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Joan Mitchell, each of whom infused their renditions of the physical landscape with an emotional resonance. Included in the acclaimed A Bigger Picture exhibition at London’s Royal Academy in 2012, Woldgate Tree, May represents the pinnacle of Hockney’s reinvigoration of the landscape.

Set against a lush backdrop of verdant green and golden yellow fields, Hockney paints the imposing form of a large tree as it bursts into leaf at the end of a long, dark English winter. It’s solid, mottled trunk supports a complex trellis of spindly branches, each meandering towards the sun  and ending in a spray of fresh green leaves. While Woldgate Tree, May is distinguished by these bold, linear forms, it is the small details within the composition that delight; the dots of distant trees on the horizon, the green and gray roofed barn nestled in the folds of the fields, and the spray of spring flowers emerging from the base of the tree are all evidence of Hockney’s astute eye.      

One of the first Yorkshire landscapes that Hockney painted en plein air, the fluid, flowing lines of the present work are testament to the speed at which Hockney works. He paints swiftly, capturing the fleeting moments of bright sunlight that accentuate the intense brilliance of the colors of spring. “The light changes so quickly up here,” Hockney once remarked, “so you have to choose how you want to depict it… Outdoors, especially in northern Europe, the scene is constantly changing because the light conditions seldom stay the same for long. The sun moves, clouds move over the sky” (D. Hockney, quoted by M. Gayford, “David Hockney: The Technology of Art,” in in M. Livingstone & E. Devaney (eds.), David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture, exh. cat. Royal Academy, London 2012, p. 62).

In this matter Hockney found inspiration in the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, particularly those painted in Arles towards the end of the Dutch artist’s life. Hockney shares van Gogh’s fascination with light, and his ability to infer the intensity of that light through the juxtaposition of color. He also admired the speed at which he worked, and how restrained van Gogh could be with his line, in addition to his ingenious use of perspective, all qualities which present themselves in this painting. In general, Hockney was a great admirer of the landscape tradition; in edition to van Gogh, the artist has stated his admiration for many of the masters of the genre, including Monet and Constable in particular. In 2006, the year he painted Woldgate Tree, May, Hockney visited a major exhibition of Constable’s work at Tate Britain, in London, and traveled to Paris to experience Monet’s Nymphéas in the newly refurbished Musée de l’Orangerie.
But in many respects, Yorkshire remained his greatest inspiration, and county has strong emotion ties for him: generations of his family worked the land, and it is where he himself had spent time as a teenager. It was home. Latterly Hockney began to explore the area anew, driving through country lanes, observing the scenery with a new sense of excitement. He reveled not only in its beauty, but also in the emotional resonance it held for him. “I began to notice it was very beautiful, a cultivated landscape... and very unspoiled. It’s still the same, amazingly the same, as it was fifty years ago” (D Hockney, quoted by C. S. Sykes, David Hockney The Biography 1975-2012: A Pilgrim’s Progress, New York, , 2014, p. 361).

Writing in The Art Newspaper in September 2021, Hockney reinforced his belief in painting and why he thinks figurative painting has finally triumphed over abstraction. “What does the world really look like? I know it doesn’t look like photographs. The camera sees geometrically, and we must see psychology. So what does it really look like? I think you have to draw it… Cézanne looked at the world and found it beautiful and knew that photography was not realistic, the same with van Gogh” (D. Hockney, “David Hockney: Why Abstraction in art has run its course,” The Art Newspaper, online, Available from https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/09/30/why-abstraction-in-art-has-run-its-course [accesssed 9/30/2021]).

One of the most respected painters working today, David Hockney rose to critical acclaim in the 1960s with his evocative paintings of the sundrenched Californian swimming pools. These scenes represented the antithesis of the drab, gray postwar Britain that the artist had left behind, but spending more in England half a century later, he fell in love with his native Yorkshire landscape. These paintings are poignant elegies to home, infused with new passion, grandeur and technical bravura, And with its lyrical song of spring, Woldgate Tree, May is a fitting testament to this rebirth. 

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