David Hockney painting ‘The Splash’ leads London auction at Sotheby’s

David Hockney's 'The Splash' (1966) (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

At the Contemporary Art Evening auction hosted by Sotheby’s yesterday (February 12), David Hockney’s The Splash (1966) sold for £23.1m ($29.8m) within its estimate of £20m-£30m. That was in the lower half of the pre-sale estimate, but nearly eight times the price achieved when the work last sold at auction for £2.9m ($5.4m) at Sotheby’s London in 2006.

£92.5m was the total for the entire sale, within the estimate of £75.3m – £104.6m. 

Hockney’s famous pool painting first appeared at auction in Sotheby’s London salesroom in 1973. The Splash – which was on view at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Taipei, New York and London before the auction – completes a series of three worksA Bigger Splash (1967), in the Tate Modern’s collection and the never-auctioned A Little Splash (1966), which remains in a private collection.

Five lots – including The Splash – crossed the £5m threshold during the evening: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Rubber (1985) at £7.5m, Francis Bacon’s Turning Figure (1963) at £7m, Christopher Wool’s monochrome painting Untitled (2007) at £6.2m and auction debutant Anthropometry, (ANT 132), by Yves Klein, which sold for £6.2m.  

The sale also featured works by Adrian Ghenie and Banksy, titled The Arrival (2014) and Vote to Love (2018), which sold for £4.2m and £1.1m respectively. However, Hockney’s The Splash seemed to dominate the evening.

“That’s what is really special about David Hockney – born in Yorkshire, the artist and his work are now truly universal,” said Alex Branczik, European head of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s.

Hockney is one of the most influential contemporary artists at the moment, Emma Baker, head of Evening Sale told Private Art Investor. “Traces of his style can be seen in the works of Jonas Wood, Shara Hughes and Elizabeth Peyton’s portraits, while nine out of his top 10 prices have been set in the past two years,” she said.

Most notably, the current record was set at the end of 2018, when the artist’s iconic Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972) sold for $90.3m in New York.

David Hockney (b. 1937), Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), painted in 1972. Sold for $90.3m in November 2018.

Hockney’s depiction of the “Californian fantasy” now has a well-established market, commanding $11.3m for his work on paper Piscine De Medianoche (Paper Pool 30) (1978) also in 2018. And, more recently, his first-ever pool painting, Picture of a Hollywood Swimming Pool from 1964 sold at Sotheby’s New York, in November 2019, for $7.2m.