Masterpiece A Month Series Celebrates Popular Oil By One of The Last Living British Legends
Each month this year during the Gallery’s Bicentenary celebration a masterpiece will hang on the end wall of the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s enfilade. David Hockney, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, 1970-1, Acrylic on canvas, 212.4 x 304.8cm, Tate, Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1971 is the chosen painting for 4 November until the 4 December.
Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy is one of a series of large double portraits which Hockney began in 1968. In earlier paintings he had featured imaginary couples as his subjects but later these were replaced by real couples who were Hockney’s friends. They were portayed in their home environments in a style which is both realistic and highly simplified. This particular painting is unusual in that both subjects look out at the artist and viewer, making the viewer the point of the couple’s gaze out of the painting, completing a triangle.
Married in 1969, Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark were the golden couple of fashion – he as fashion designer, she as the designer of textiles which were the perfect medium for his romantic, floaty dresses. Hockney himself was equally the golden boy of art, at the height of his early fame, a great friend to both sitters individually and together. Like Hockney the two came from the North of England and met the artist in Manchester in 1961, where Ossie was studying at Manchester College of Art. Both men went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London. The painting – very beautiful, highly realistic and almost classical in its restrained realism and crisp light – seemed to sum up everything that was glamorous, talented and magical about the decade that had just finished. But there is more to it than that, because somehow this painting has become one of Britain’s artistic icons, at the top of the ‘must-see’ list of all visitors to Tate Britain.
In part this could be due to how the work’s pristine perfection captures something that was soon to be lost. Ossie Clark was a complex character, soon to be sucked into a world of hard drugs and addiction. His designs, with their flattering flowing quality that epitomised the late sixties and early seventies – the world of Biba – represented exactly what Punk set out to destroy. His career went through dramatic ups and downs, while the marriage of ‘muses’ celebrated by Hockney was not to last. Ossie was predominantly homosexual: the marriage broke down under the strain, and Ossie’s story ended violently, stabbed to death by his young gay lover.
Sir Nicholas Serota, Tate Director, said: “The portrayal of a couple who seem more engaged in themselves and the painter, rather than each other, has long lent the painting a particular enigmatic charge; and to be able to gaze at this painting alongside those masterpieces of English and European portraiture in Dulwich, such as Thomas Gainsborough’s double portraits, A Couple in a Landscape, and Elizabeth and Mary Linley, or Rembrandt’s haunting Girl at a Window, offers striking comparisons with Hockney’s at once modern yet traditional approach to the portrait subject.”
The masterpiece will be on display from 1 November – 4 December 2011.