Hockney's early pool painting ‘California’, unseen for over 40 years, set to sell for US$20m in London

David Hockney, one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century, is best known for his series of paintings depicting swimming pools. In 2018, he made headlines when his 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for a staggering US$90.3 million at Christie’s, setting an auction record for a work by a living artist.

This spring, in response to collectors’ ever-growing demand for Hockney’s artwork, Christie’s has presented an early work from the artist’s pool series – California (1965), which has been kept in private hands for more than four decades. It will go under the hammer on 7 March at Christie’s London with an estimate of £16 million (US$20.26 million) with a third-party guarantee.

Lot 24 | David Hockney | California, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 1965 in London
168 x 198.8 cm

  • Kasmin Ltd., London
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1968

Estimate on request (In the region of £16,000,000 / US$20 million)

Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale
Date: 7 March 2024

"In England, a swimming pool would have been seen as a sign of luxury, because the climate in England is not very good for outdoor pools. But in Southern California, it's not – they're simply everywhere because you can enjoy them year-round,” Hockney recalled his time living there.

Born in 1937 in northern England, Hockney spent his childhood amidst the turmoil of World War II and later studied at the Royal College of Art in London. In 1964, David Hockney left London for California. Having graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1962, he saved enough money from selling his paintings to live in Los Angeles for a year.

Upon arrival, he was immediately captivated by the picturesque landscapes of the city, particularly the outdoor pools basking in the bright sunshine. Since then, they have become a recurring and beloved theme in Hockney's artwork.

David Hockney in 1965

Alongside Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, David Hockney is considered one of the prominent figures in the post-war British art scene. They played a significant role in reviving figurative painting amidst the prevailing trend of abstract art during that period.

In comparison to the other two artists, Hockney's paintings exhibit a more joyful imagery, characterised by vibrant and lively colours, evoking a sense of carefree enjoyment. This characteristic can perhaps be attributed to the stunning weather and scenery of California.

Close-up of California

California was created in 1965, the year following Hockney's first arrival in Los Angeles. It depicts two nude men lying on a flotation bed in a pool and enjoying leisurely moments. The buttocks of the figures are slightly paler than the rest of the body, showing Hockney’s attention to detail.

This artwork is one of Hockney's earliest pool paintings. The techniques he used to depict shimmering water and the portrayal of nude figures can be found in later works of the same series. Examples include Peter Getting Out Of Nick’s Pool (1966), Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972), and the poster created for the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In 2018, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for a staggering US$90.3 million at Christie's New York without a reserve or guarantee. It made Hockney the "most expensive living artist" until the record was surpassed by Jeff Koons' stainless steel sculpture Rabbit (1986), which fetched US$91 million in 2019.

Last year, Tate Modern in London held an art exhibition in collaboration with the YAGEO Foundation, the philanthropic branch of Taiwanese entrepreneur Pierre Chen's electronics company. The centrepiece of the exhibition was Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), which hinted to the public that the painting had been acquired by the Taiwanese billionaire.

Peter Getting Out Of Nick’s Pool (1966) by David Hockney

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972) by David Hockney

The poster that Hockney created for the 1972 Munich Olympics

Measuring 168 x 198.8 cm, the painting has been kept in a private European collection for over 40 years since its last exhibition in 1979. It was acquired by its current owner from Kasmin Gallery in 1968. In 1987, David Hockney made a copy based on the present painting, and that version, with a smaller size of 150.08 x 182.56 cm, is now in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

California will be auctioned at Christie's in London as part of the 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale on 7 March. Please stay tuned with us for updates on the sale results.

California created by David Hockney in 1987 and copied from the 1965 Painting, now resides in Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

David Hockney’s California to be sold at Christie’s London