An iconic portrait by the British Artist David Hockney of Royal Opera House boss Sir David Webster will go under the hammer this month at Christie’s. It has been suggested that the painting will fetch up to £18m.
We knew we had to look at any assets we had,” said current director Alex Beard
The painting, which was commissioned for the Covent Garden Opera House in the 1970s, is part of a four-point plan to keep the venue going during the pandemic. Redundancies are inevitable and a huge donation drive is also underway.
The painting depicts Sir David Webster sitting in profile, in front of a glass-topped coffee table and a vase of pink tulips. Webster ran the Royal Opera House between 1945 and 1970 and played a key role in the establishment of the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera companies at Covent Garden. Hockney was commissioned to paint his portrait – which in recent years hung in the Covent Garden venue – after he stepped down in the 1970s.
The painting was “the first of a rare handful of commissions completed by Hockney: he would not accept another until three decades later, when he painted Sir George and Lady Mary Christie of Glyndebourne for the National Portrait Gallery” Christie’s states.
“We knew we had to look at any assets we had,” said current director Alex Beard. “And there is only really one of any note that stands out and that is this portrait. “If we can remain viable and get through this, then we can get back to employing people in the future.”
According to Katharine Arnold Christie’s co-head of postwar and contemporary European art, said: “This is my favourite period of Hockney’s work. Like the well-known portrait of Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, completed the same year, there is so much time taken with it and so much attention to detail.”
There is great interest in collecting Hockney internationally, Arnold said this weekend, and his portraits from the 1970s, his naturalist phase, are among the most desirable. “I love the way Hockney has changed his technique over the years, but most people agree this was the peak of his practice. It is my job now to do the best for the portrait and for the opera house that so many people love.”
Mr Beard said the artist had been notified of the impending sale: “We have a good relationship, but he does not much like it when any of his work is auctioned,” he told the Observer.