Art Market

London’s Royal Opera House will sell its David Hockney portrait to raise funds.

Justin Kamp
Oct 5, 2020 7:54PM, via Christie's

David Hockney's Portrait of Sir David Webster, 1971. Courtesy Sotheby's.

London’s Royal Opera House will sell David Hockney’s Portrait of Sir David Webster (1971) at Christie’s upcoming post-war and contemporary sale in order to alleviate the financial strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. The painting, which carries an estimate of £11 to £18 million ($14.2 to 23.2 million), depicts the opera house’s former general administrator, Sir David Webster, rendered in Hockney’s signature realist style. It will go on offer on October 22nd, as part of Christie’s “Paris to London” auction series.

Alex Beard, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House, said of the decision to sell:

As we face the biggest crisis in our history, the sale of David Hockney’s wonderful portrait of Sir David Webster is a vital part of our strategy for recovery, and the proceeds will be used to ensure that the world’s greatest artists can once more return to our stages. To sustain our community of artists through this period, and to ensure we can continue to delight audiences for decades to come with extraordinary ballet, dance, music and opera, we have a four-pronged plan for recovery: a programme of restructuring and staffing cuts, reducing our costs wherever possible; a fundraising campaign from our audiences and supporters to sustain our community of artists, craftspeople and backstage staff; support from Government; and realising such value as we can from our assets.

The opera house, which is also home to the Royal Ballet, is the largest arts employer in the United Kingdom. Its decision to sell a historic masterpiece in order to continue operations comes as museums worldwide look to their collections to buoy their finances amid the pandemic. The Baltimore Museum of Art has recently announced that it is deaccessioning three works from its collection—Andy Warhol’s The Last Supper (1986), Brice Marden’s 3 (1987–88) and Clyfford Still’s 1957-G (1957)—in order to sell the pieces at Sotheby’s this fall. The Brooklyn Museum will similarly be deaccessioning 12 works later this month in the hopes of raising administrative funds. Sale of these works in order to finance museum operations is typically restricted, however the Association of Art Museum Directors decided in April to place a moratorium on punitive action through April 10, 2022.

According to Artsy data, as Hockney’s paintings have reached ever-higher prices at auction in recent years, the market for his works on paper has also grown; inquiries on his prints in particular have steadily increased on the platform in the past five years, including a 36 percent year-over-year surge in inquiries in 2018, the year of his record-smashing result at Christie’s.

Further Reading: Why This Painting Will Make David Hockney the Most Expensive Living Artist

Further Reading: What It’s Like to Sit for David Hockney

Justin Kamp
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