David Hockney entered the Royal College of Art in 1959 following a strong grounding in traditional academic techniques that he had developed during his four years studying at the Bradford School of Art. Dominated by the Slade tradition and subsequent Euston Road School, drawing had been the foundation of the program there. Keen to exhibit this well-honed draughtsmanship, Hockney created a number of highly finished drawings of a skeleton in his first term at the Royal College.
Against this traditional grounding Hockney became conscious of emerging abstract movements both in this country and America. 'Young students had realised that American painting was more interesting than French painting ... American abstract expressionism was the great influence. So I tried my hand at it. I did a few pictures … that were based on a kind of mixture of Alan Davie cum Jackson Pollock cum Roger Hilton. And I did them for a while, and then I couldn’t. It was too barren for me' (David Hockney, David Hockney: My early Years, London, 1976, p. 41).
The present work references the 'still' life drawings of the skeleton; traditional but abbreviated, while experimenting with the techniques and ideas that he saw in the work of Jackson Pollock and Alan Davie. The palette feels consciously restrained as Hockney takes his first tentative steps towards abstraction, focusing on the objective rather than the emotional nature of the painting.
Although Hockney found abstraction 'too barren' there is no doubt that it had a lasting impact on the way he approached the physical nature of painting and the relationship between the onlooker and the work of art as an entity in its own right. This is very evident in his subsequent works based around love and his own sexuality.
Most of these works were subsequently destroyed or painted over, and the present lot is consequently a rare example from this exploratory time in Hockney’s early career.