Asia Exclusive: Sotheby’s Hong Kong to Sell Hockney’s 30 Sunflowers, Estimated to Fetch in the region of HK$80m

In recent years, Sotheby’s has brought impressive contemporary artworks to the Hong Kong salesroom that elicited strong interest from buyers. This season is no exception. Sotheby’s Hong Kong will offer David Hockney’s 30 Sunflowers at its Contemporary Art Evening Sale this coming April. It is expected to fetch in the region of HK$80m.

David Hockney is considered one of the most influential and prolific artists of the 20th century, best known for his landscapes, still life paintings and portraits. Having worked in mediums such as painting, photography, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and more, Hockney is among the most versatile artists of his time. In 2018, his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) was sold for US$90.3m at New York auction and set the record for the most expensive work of art by a living artist until it was replaced by Jeff Koons’ stainless steel sculpture Rabbit.

Measuring 182.9 x 182.9 cm, 30 Sunflowers is part of the artist’s Flower series. It was executed in 1996 when Hockney was nearly 60 years old. It was a pivotal moment in both the personal life and professional career of the artist.

How Hockney came to embark on the series is two-fold. On one hand, he relied on painting pictures of flowers in times when he was coping with ill and dying friends. Hockney once said, 'I have always painted flowers for friends who were ill.' Sadly but importantly during the time just prior to beginning work on this series Hockney was coping with several significant losses. The passing of his friends forced him to examine the delicacy and transience of life.

On the other hand was the influence brought by the Vermeer exhibition at the Mauritshaus in The Hague the previous summer. Hockney himself claimed that his private viewing of the Vermeer exhibition made him passionate about flower still life paintings. He was amazed by how vibrant the colours on Vermeer’s paintings are after 350 years. He learnt from Vermeer’s methods of layering yellow and blue hues underneath the outermost layers of paint. In his new series of flower paintings, he quite successfully reproduced Vermeer’s technique which heightens the radiance and vibrancy of the sunflowers and vases.

Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring|Mauritshuis in the Hague

30 Sunflowers is featured on the cover of the catalogue for Hockney’s Flowers, Faces and Spaces exhibition in 1997

30 Sunflowers, along with all the other Flower paintings from 1996 were exhibited together in Hockney’s exhibition entitled Flowers, Faces and Spaces in 1997 at Annely Juda Fine Art in London. 30 Sunflowers stands out as a masterpiece of imposing scale, arresting and intricate composition with the greatest number of sunflowers, as well as sheer incredible richness of colour and texture. It was also featured on the cover of the catalogue for the exhibition.

Sunflower is a popular subject that inspires many great masterpieces. Some of the most famous sunflower paintings include Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflower series. Last year, the Van Gogh Museum held an exhibition titled Hockney - Van Gogh: The Joy of Nature, which showcased the works by the two amazing artists.

Hockney - Van Gogh: The Joy of Nature

The resemblances between the two artists are no coincidence. Vincent van Gogh was a great source of inspiration for David Hockney. In an interview with the museum, Hockney showed great admiration for van Gogh. ‘He (Vincent van Gogh) was a kind of miserable man in a way. But when he was painting, he wasn’t. That’s what he loved to do and there’s love in those paintings. It’s not misery. I tell you why I think people really love them is you can see how they’re done. All the brush marks are visible. You can see how they are painted. He was really the first great colourist I think. I am not a colourist like Van Gogh,’ said Hockney.

The catalogue for Hockney - Van Gogh: The Joy of Nature

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers|Van Gogh Museum

David Hockney still enjoys widespread popularity around the globe. His works are on display at exhibitions in the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Japan, Spain, Italy etc.

The Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMOA) reopened in November 2019 with an exhibition titled A Sense of Place: from Turner to Hockney. The show presents Bigger Trees Near Warter, the largest painting ever completed by Hockney which measures a staggering 4.6m x 12.2m.

David Hockney's Bigger Trees Near Warter at HKMOA

Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott was sold for £37.7m

Hockney's paintings have been highly sought after at auctions. Last March, his large-scale double portrait Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott was sold for 37.7m in London; last November, Sur la Terrasse, Hockney’s life-size scale painting of his muse, was sold for US$29.5m.

Next week, Sotheby’s London is going to present Hockney’s famous painting The Splash with an estimate of £20m-30m. According to Bloomberg, the seller was Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau. The painting last appeared at auctions in 2006 and was sold for £2.9m, setting the auction record for the artist at the time. The painting has a sevenfold increase in value in the last 14 years.

In concurrence with the Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 11 February, the auction house will exhibit 30 Sunflowers in London from 7-11 February. The painting will then go on public display in Los Angeles, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Taipei before it goes under the hammer in Hong Kong on 6 April.

David Hockney’s The Splash

Traditionally, Western masterpieces like the present Hockney piece are usually offered at New York or London salesrooms. 30 Sunflowers is the first major Hockney painting to appear at auction in Asia. So why is such important Western painting offered in Hong Kong this time? It is perhaps the new move by Yuki Terase, Head of Contemporary Art, Sotheby's Asia.

Yuki Terase is a key figure in developing the contemporary art segment in the Asian auction market. She has brought wow factors to the Hong Kong saleroom in recent years by taking an innovative, boundary-pushing approach which has successfully attracted young collectors.

Some of the notable sales include collaborations with street fashion master NIGO and pop icon T.O.P, the record-breaking KAWS and Yoshitomo Nara paintings, selling the concept of Xuzhen Supermarket as artwork and more. These sales all pulled off impressive results with various new records set, cementing Hong Kong’s position as an international platform for global clients.

Yuki Terase, Head of Contemporary Art, Sotheby's Asia

The white-glove NIGO sale achieved 100% sold

Yoshitomo Nara’s Knife Behind Back sold for HK$195m, an auction record for the artist

In fact, Sotheby’s has been devoted to bringing Western contemporary art to Asia. Last year, Western contemporary art contributed a record high for Sotheby’s Asia at HK$701m (US$90m), more than any international houses in Asia. Meanwhile, Asian contemporary art also brought in HK$924m to Sotheby’s Asia, higher than those of competitors in the region.

Sotheby’s also holds the record for the most expensive Western contemporary art auctioned in Asia. In April 2017, Andy Warhol’s Mao fetched HK$98.54m in Hong Kong.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong is having a tough time with the ongoing political unrest, together with the recent threats imposed by the coronavirus outbreak. Art Basel faces calls to cancel the March show amid fears. We’ll wait and see if Hockney’s 30 Sunflowers will sell well in April.

David Hockney. 30 Sunflowers. Oil on canvas

Created in: 1996
Size: 182.9 x 182.9cm
Estimate upon request (The Value learnt that 30 Sunflowers is expected to fetch in the region of HK$80m)
Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Auction date: 6 April 2020|7pm