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David Hockney (b. 1937)
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David Hockney (b. 1937)\nGreat Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes\noil on canvas\n72 x 72in. (183 x 183cm.)\nPainted in 1963
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notes

'Egypt is one of the most thrilling countries I've ever been to in the sense that these monuments are the oldest known buildings anywhere. After all, when Cleopatra showed Julius Caesar the pyramids, they were already two thousand years old and more. It is quite awe-inspiring; not even in China are there things older, and I think you feel connected with them, whoever you are' (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), That's the Way I See it: David Hockney, London 1993, p. 36).

'I simply said 'great' to the offer of Egypt. After all, it had palm trees like Honolulu' (D. Hockney, quoted in R. Brooks (ed.), 'Here's your original Hockney, reader. Sorry it's 50 years late', in The Sunday Times, 30 December 2012).

'So I went to Egypt for three, four weeks, and I made a lot of drawings there, about forty drawings, I think. I drew everything. I went to Cairo, then Alexandria, and up to Luxor, where I spent about ten days; it was the most interesting. When I came back I made the paintings of the Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes and Four Heads (Egyptian) [destroyed in a fire in 1967]' (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1976, p. 94).

'During these years [Hockney] travelled extensively in Europe, Egypt and America, always with the devouring hunger and curiosity which mark his intellect and shape his taste. He visited museums, saw new kinds of architecture bathed in a flatter and less shadowed light, and realised increasingly the wonder and appeal of a world beyond Bradford, beyond London, beyond England, and finally beyond Europe' (H. Geldzahler, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1976, p. 14).

'[Hockney's show at Kasmin is] a considerable achievement: to be able to use figurative imagery today in a manner that is neither a painstaking alternative to a photograph nor the excuse for some striking patterns of light and movement. But to use them in fact as dramatic material. Bacon had done it but very few others besides' (E. Mullins, quoted in C.S. Sykes, The Biography, Hockney: A Rake's Progress, Volume 1, 1937-1975, London 2011, p. 137).

INTRODUCTION

Painted in 1963, Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes is a landmark painting by David Hockney. Executed on a six-foot square format, it is an alluring, exotic composition, marking the first appearance of a hieratic palm tree in the artist's oeuvre. Commanding the centre of the painting is the ancient pyramid of Giza. Sprouting up through the foreground is the vertiginous palm, its green fronds offering little shade to the figure dressed in his flowing jellabiya below. Running behind in a pale, opalescent blue is the River Nile, flanking two sculptural visages, broken and partially buried by the sand. It is a near surreal composition that marked a watershed in the artist's practice, moving away from the stylisation and almost pure invention characteristic of his work as a student at the Royal College of Art and importantly prefiguring the Californian swimming pool paintings with their bright West coast light. Egypt had long been a source of fascination for Hockney, first appearing as a theme in his work as early as 1961 in Grand Procession of Dignitaries in the Semi-Egyptian Style. The fascination developed through his encounter with ancient Egyptian art at the British Museum and later at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, as well as his deep admiration for Greek-Alexandrian poet Constantine P. Cavafy. It was only in 1963 however, at the age of twenty-six that Hockney was eventually to travel to the country. As he recounted with rapturous enthusiasm some years later, 'Egypt is one of the most thrilling countries I've ever been to in the sense that these monuments are the oldest known buildings anywhere. After all, when Cleopatra showed Julius Caesar the pyramids, they were already two thousand years old and more. It is quite awe-inspiring; not even in China are there things older, and I think you feel connected with them, whoever you are' (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), That's the Way I See it: David Hockney, London 1993, p. 36).

Whilst in Egypt, Hockney carried out a series of over forty drawings, spending time in Alexandria, Cairo and Luxor. Upon his return to London and in preparation for his much anticipated solo-exhibition at the Kasmin Gallery, Hockney undertook this monumental, sun drenched, oil on canvas. It stands as the only remaining canvas to commemorate his early adventures in Egypt. As Henry Geldzahler later recalled, 'during these years [Hockney] travelled extensively in Europe, Egypt and America, always with the devouring hunger and curiosity which mark his intellect and shape his taste. He visited museums, saw new kinds of architecture bathed in a flatter and less shadowed light, and realised increasingly the wonder and appeal of a world beyond Bradford, beyond London, beyond England, and finally beyond Europe' (H. Geldzahler, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1976, p. 14). In the years that were to follow Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes, recognised for its primacy within the artist's oeuvre, was included in a number of major international exhibitions including the Calouste Gulbenkian exhibition of important Post-War artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Francis Bacon and Jasper Johns held at the Tate Gallery, London in 1964, Hockney's major retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 1970 and at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, Paris in 1974.

A ROMANTIC IDEAL OF EGYPT

Hockney's enchantment with Egypt began perhaps surprisingly in Bradford, where the young student discovered the writings of Alexandrian-Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy. Cavafy kindled a romantic ideal of Egypt in Hockney's mind and inspired his first painting on the subject, A Grand Procession of Dignitaries in the Semi-Egyptian Style (1961) based upon Cavafy's, 'Waiting for the Barbarians'.

The following year, Hockney travelled to Berlin with an American friend, Jeff Goodman, visiting the museums in the East of the city. It was at the Pergamon Museum that Hockney was struck by the qualities of ancient Egyptian art, which he translated into a series of important paintings upon his return including Man in a Museum (or You are in the Wrong Movie) (1962) (British Council Collection), The First Marriage (A Marriage of Styles I) (1962) (Tate Gallery) replete with a hieratic palm tree to signify its exotic location - also his first work to be purchased by the Tate Gallery, and The Second Marriage (1963) (National Gallery of Victoria). For a number of the compositions, Hockney drew upon the sculpted physiognomy of an Amarna Princess reproduced in The Acanthus History of Sculpture, Ancient Egypt published in 1960 by C.D. Noblecourt. It is arguably this statuesque, sculptural head which is seen in fragments, partially buried in the sun bleached sand of Hockney's Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes.

HOCKNEY'S ADVENTURES ALONG THE NILE

Hockney's enthusiasm for art and poetry connected with Egypt met its confluence in 1963 with the artist's first trip to the country sponsored by art historian, David Sylvester and journalist, Mark Boxer at the Sunday Times. This was a time of popular fascination with all things Egyptian, fashion experimenting with jet black kohl and ancient Egypt-inspired design and adornments. Indeed 1963 was the year of Elizabeth Taylor's iconic role as Cleopatra alongside Richard Burton, which lent ancient Egypt a special Hollywood glamour. Eager to travel, Hockney negotiated with the Sunday Times to send him abroad and he left on 26th September wearing a white suit, a white cap and polka-dot bow tie. As Hockney later recounted, 'they phoned me up one day and said 'Would you like to go to Bradford to draw it?' They'd only just started the colour magazine and so they were wanting things to put into it, and David Sylvester and Mark Boxer who were doing it had the idea of sending an artist to places. When they asked if I'd go to Bradford, I said 'Oh it's too much like J.B. Priestley; not me'. I wanted more exotic things - I'd only left Bradford a few years before, and the idea of going back didn't appeal. I said 'I'll go to Honolulu; I'll draw the view from the top of the Honolulu Hilton for you, if you send me there', and to my surprise they said 'We'll call you back on it'... I went to Egypt for three, four weeks, and I made a lot of drawings there, about forty drawings, I think. I drew everything. I went to Cairo, then Alexandria, and up to Luxor, where I spent about ten days; it was the most interesting. When I came back I made the paintings of the Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes and Four Heads (Egyptian) [destroyed in a fire in 1967]' (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1976, p. 94).

Instead of a view from the Honolulu Hilton, Hockney carried out a panoramic view from the Nile Hilton, first to open in the Middle East. As Marco Livingstone has noted, 'View from the Nile Hilton is an image fuelled by the expectations of a newly arrived first-time visitor gazing out of the windows of his luxury western-style hotel at the sleek modern building opposite' (M. Livingstone, D. Hockney: Egyptian Journeys, exh. cat., Palace of Arts, Cairo, 2002, p. 24). In the middle ground we see a sketched out palm tree and the outlines of four figures in jellabiyas crossing the street, but dominating the centre of the composition is the billowing Egyptian flag, inviting the tourist to venture out onto the streets of Cairo. This same sense of rapture is evident in Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes, where Hockney commemorates his moment standing in front of one of the great wonders of the world. 'It was a marvelous three weeks' Hockney remembers. 'I didn't take a camera, only drawing paper, so I drew everywhere and everything, the Pyramids, modern Egypt, it was terrific. I was very turned on by the place, and on your own you do a lot more work. I carried all my drawings everywhere and a lot of equipment, and I would get up very early in the morning. I loved the café life. Egyptians are very easy-going people, very humorous and pleasant, and I liked them very much. It was a great adventure' (D. Hockney, quoted in C.S. Sykes, The Biography, Hockney: A Rake's Progress, Volume 1, 1937-1975, London 2011, p. 135).

PAINTINGS WITH PEOPLE IN

The drawings undertaken during Hockney's trip to Egypt were due to be published in the 24th November edition of the Sunday Times, but the world shattering assassination of President John F. Kennedy intervened. As his mother recorded in her diary: 'President Kennedy has been assassinated. Died in hospital 25 minutes later. Came thro on TV at 7.10 this evening...The world feels cold with shock. One can sense the feeling of horror everywhere even to the far ends of the earth' (L. Hockney, quoted in C.S. Sykes, The Biography, Hockney: A Rake's Progress, Volume 1, 1937-1975, London 2011, p. 135). At the Sunday Times, the magazine and twenty-five pages of the newspaper were already gone to print but the editor, Denis Hamilton was emphatic and the whole publication was pulled. By this time however, Hockney was so excited at the prospect of his forthcoming exhibition, his very first one-man show at the Kasmin Gallery, that he took little time to be disappointed. Instead he focused his efforts upon finishing his last painting Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes deciding that the proceeds of his show at Kasmin would finance his long trip to California, the land of his dreams.

Hockney decided that all of his assembled paintings for the show should feature people in them in order to distinguish his work from the other purely abstract painters in Kasmin's stable of artists. Painting with People in opened on 6th December 1963 and amongst the ten paintings exhibited many are now housed within major public collections including: Man in a Museum (1962) (Collection of the British Council), Seated Woman Drinking Tea, Being Served by a Standing Companion (1963) (Museum of Modern Art, New York), Domestic Scene. Notting Hill (1963) (on loan to the Hamburg Kunsthalle, Hamburg), Renaissance Head (1963) (Museum Calouste Gulbenkian). Hockney received great approbation following the exhibition with Edwin Mullins at the Sunday Times considering the show to be 'a considerable achievement: to be able to use figurative imagery today in a manner that is neither a painstaking alternative to a photograph nor the excuse for some striking patterns of light and movement. But to use them in fact as dramatic material. Bacon had done it but very few others besides' (E. Mullins, quoted in C.S. Sykes, The Biography, Hockney: A Rake's Progress, Volume 1, 1937-1975, London, 2011, p. 137). His exhibition at the Kasmin Gallery was a sell-out and on 30th December, Hockney left London for the States with enough money to spend for his year abroad.

COLOURS AND SENSATIONS: CALIFORNIA DREAMING

In Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes, Hockney created a magnificent monument to his Egyptian trip, effectively distilling the colours and sensations of his epic, desert locale on canvas. As Marco Livingstone has averred, in Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes 'the monumentality of Egyptian art and architecture, far from overpowering him, becomes instead an excuse for almost surrealistic plays of scale, with a faintly outlined human figure, a modern water pipe and a palm tree all vying for grandeur with the Great Pyramid' (M. Livingstone (ed.), David Hockney, exh. cat., Odakyu Grand Gallery, Shinjuku, 1989, p. 125). Rendered on a scale of six-foot square, the painting offers a dramatic panorama, the viewer engulfed by the Great pyramid dominating the clear blue horizon. The pyramid itself is rendered in a flurry of brushstrokes, the artist filling the clean geometric shape with warm, sand tones. Winding its way through the middle ground, the artist has captured the Nile, the paint taking on a blue translucency to mirror the river's flowing waters. This early interest in the quality of water was to translate into the swimming pool paintings undertaken just a few years later in California. As the artist explained, he was fascinated by 'the formal problem to represent water, to describe water, because it can be anything - it can be any colour, it's moveable, it has no set visual description' (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1976, p. 100).

Bands of pink, white and earthen brown traverse the horizon of the painting offering the work a certain abstract quality; arguably a nod to the grand American abstract painting style that had begun circulating Britain following the Tate Gallery's The New American Painting exhibition in 1959. Expanses of bare canvas break up the painted passages of the composition, giving the desert scene an illusion of depth. At the same time, the raw, unprimed canvas with its hessian weave, gives the painting a tactile quality, like the sensation of sand passing through one's bare fingers. Through his intentional use of raw canvas as a compositional tool, Hockney was adopting a technique that Francis Bacon had often employed to great effect in his paintings. Rising from under the paint layers, a penciled outline of a male figure appears, his legs standing askance in a posture reminiscent of the earlier Domestic Scene. Notting Hill (1963) rendered on the same scale, in which the nude figure of his friend Mo McDermott appears at the centre of the painting. A number of these domestic scenes were undertaken shortly before Hockney's trip to Egypt, arguably a function of his satisfaction with the new surroundings of his large flat-cum-studio on Powis Terrace, Notting Hill which he moved into in 1962.

Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes marks an important turning point in Hockney's practice. In this work the artist is seen visibly moving away from the expressionist application of paint evident in his earlier oeuvre, influenced by the faux-naïveté of Art Brut artist Jean Dubuffet. In Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes, Hockney begins to employ the clarity and frontality that would become a hallmark of his California manner. As Henry Geldzahler so cogently concluded, 'Hockney's work since the middle sixties has been increasingly concerned with frontality facing the subject and viewing it closely and stereoscopically, with the stillness of Byzantine art, and the surrealist sense of time out of time; simultaneously the pictures are an accretion of time, layer on layer, from conception to completion, often the result of months of thought and effort; painting and repainting, correcting perspective and adjusting colour. One of the accomplishments of these paintings is the impacted time we apprehend. The image is available at first sight and retains a timeless quality. But the picture continues to unfold as it becomes apparent that the craftsmanship is one of the vehicles through which the story is told' (H. Geldzahler, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1976, p. 15).

title

David Hockney (b. 1937)

medium

Oil on canvas

prelot

PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE BRITISH COLLECTION

creator

David Hockney

keywords

David Hockney , 1960s, Paintings, Great Britain, Post War

exhibited

London, Kasmin Gallery, David Hockney: Paintings with People In, 1963.

London, Tate Gallery, The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Painting and Sculpture of a Decade 1954-1964, 1964, no. 352 (illustrated, unpaged).

Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, David Hockney, 1969, no. 13, p. 21 (illustrated, p. 15).

London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings 1960-1970, 1970, no. 63.22 (illustrated, p. 41).

Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, David Hockney: Paintings and Drawings, 1974, no. 4 (illustrated in colour, p. 29).

Newcastle upon Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, David Hockney: Paintings, Drawings and Prints, 1976, p. 9 (illustrated, p. 20).

London, Royal Academy of Arts, British Art in the 20th Century, 1987, no. 262, p. 341 (illustrated in colour, p. 346).

Tokyo, Odakyu Grand Gallery, David Hockney, 1989, no. 8, p. 125 (illustrated in colour, p. 33).

Nottingham, Nottingham Contemporary, David Hockney 1960-1968: A Marriage of Styles, 2009, p. 86 (illustrated in colour, p. 53).

London, Tate Britain, 2009 (on extended loan).

department

POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART

dimensions

72 x 72in. (183 x 183cm.)

literature

N. Stangos, David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1976, no. 80, p. 299 (illustrated, p. 77).

N. Stangos, Pictures by David Hockney, London 1979 (illustrated, p. 25).

Hockney Paints the Stage, exh. cat., London, Hayward Gallery, 1985 (illustrated in colour, p. 19).

P. Melia, U. Luckhardt, David Hockney Paintings, Munich 2000, no. 15 (illustrated in colour, p. 53).

C.S. Sykes, Hockney: The Biography, London 2013 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).

provenance

Kasmin Gallery, London.

Lady John Cholmondeley, London.

Kasmin Gallery, London.

Lord Pembroke, London (acquired from the above in the early 1980s).

Herbert Family Trustees.

special_notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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