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  • "The paintings of these years were his best to date and there is one good one after another: Beverly Hills Housewife, Portrait of Nick Wilder, Savings and Loan Building, A Lawn Sprinkler, A Neat Lawn, and A Bigger Splash. All are detached, all breathe a clarity of light, perception and realized intention that make Hockney's new and greater ambition to paint the world of today dead-on…"—Henry Geldzahler

    David Hockney with the present work in his North Kensington studio, photographed by Jorge Lewinski, 1968. Image: © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images

    Belonging to a series of monumental canvases painted in 1967, David Hockney’s A Neat Lawn is a seminal example of the artist’s California Dreaming paintings. Here, Hockney presents a Los Angelesian house set against bright blue sky with a perfectly tended lawn nurtured by a sprinkler, the spewing spindrifts offering the only indication of movement in this otherwise static scene. A Neat Lawn demonstrates one of Hockney’s first sustained experimentations on the dynamics of light and water, as exemplified in the strong shadows cast by the eave and across the hedges as well as the glistening blades of grass. Hockney recalled, “for the first time it became an interesting thing for me, light.”i A Neat Lawn was first shown alongside A Bigger Splash and A Lawn Sprinkler in 1968 at the artist’s sensational solo exhibition at Kasmin Gallery, London, a pivotal show that brought him to international acclaim.

  • A Selection of Paintings Exhibited at Kasmin Limited, London, January 1968

  • Hockney took his first trip to Los Angeles in 1964 and was immediately enthralled with the sunlight, pools, and glitz and glamor of the city he had only thus far experienced through magazines and film. However, it was not until 1967 when teaching a graduate course at the University of California in Berkeley that Hockney was afforded the opportunity to celebrate his muse-city on an epic scale. Weekending in Los Angeles, where he was living on Pico Boulevard with his partner Peter Schlesinger, Hockney stayed in Berkeley during the week, where he was offered a studio on the university grounds. “In Berkeley they gave me a very large proper studio...It was the first time I’d ever had a proper studio with a north light.”ii It was here that Hockney embarked on his most ambitious California pictures to date, as the space and light allowed Hockney to endeavor on the largest canvases he had so far attempted, including the present work, A Bigger Splash, and The Room, Tarzana. Indeed Hockney recalled, “[In 1967] I painted more pictures than I’d ever done before....it was certainly the happiest year I spent in California.”iii

    "The one thing that had happened in Los Angeles was that I had begun to paint real things I had seen; all the paintings before that were either ideas or things I’d seen in a book and made something from. In Los Angeles, I actually began to paint the city round me…"
    —David Hockney

    Hockney at work, ca. 1967. Image: Tony Evans/Timelapse Library Ltd./Getty Images

    In A Neat Lawn, the ostensible subject of Hockney’s gaze is a modest structure typical of the suburban middle-class neighborhoods located on 1033 South Bedford Street—just blocks away from Hockney’s home at the time. “As the climate and the openness of the houses reminded me of Italy,” Hockney expressed, “I borrowed a few notions from Fra Angelico and Piero Della Francesca.”iv Exemplifying the artist’s earliest investigations into coalescing his enchantment with the suburban landscape and lifestyle, A Neat Lawn elevates the mundane to the monumental, transforming the shallow front yard of the property into a grand lawn and supersizing the innocuous structure to the majestic proportions of his sensibility.

     

    [left] David Hockney, A Lawn Sprinkler, 1967. Artwork: © David Hockney [right] David Hockney, A Lawn Being Sprinkled, 1967. Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Artwork: © David Hockney

    At the time Hockney created A Neat Lawn, he was preoccupied with capturing the fleeting movement of water, a recurring feature of his work from this period. He expressed, “I loved the idea, first of all, of painting like Leonardo, all his studies of water...And I loved the idea of painting this thing that lasts for two seconds.”v In an interview reflecting on Hockney’s 1968 show at his gallery, John Kasmin recalled how this fascination manifested in A Neat Lawn, “[It was] painted in and the result of David’s living in Los Angeles, and being impressed by the treatment of the lawns in that dry area and sprinklers being everywhere. I think it probably was the first time he’d noticed lawn sprinklers.”vi In the present work, Hockney channeled his newfound captivation for lawn sprinklers as Kasmin described through his engrossment with depicting water as a formal endeavor. In the artist’s words, “I had become interested in the more general problem of painting the water, finding a way to do it. It is an interesting formal problem, really, apart from its subject matter; it is a formal problem to represent water, to describe water, because it can be anything…”vii

     

     

    Of Hockney’s works from this period, Chris Stephens observed, “Despite these attempts at a kind of realism, the works continued to be predominantly about the tension between representation and artifice.”viii While evincing Hockney’s virtuosic handling in representing the transparency and transience of the water, the sprinkler spews rather like a dignified fountain, alerting viewers to the other seemingly realistic elements that appear too perfectly—the shapeliness and verdure of the vegetation, the immaculate façade, the salient stillness of the scene. 

    "Of course all painting, no matter what you’re painting, is abstract in that it’s got to be organized. No matter what the illusion created, it is a flat canvas and it has to be organized into shapes."
    —David Hockney

    Showcasing Hockney’s achievement of harmonizing representation and abstraction through his singular painterly language, the various formal and technical devices he employs in A Neat Lawn ultimately lend themselves to his ongoing dialogue with the conditions governing modern painting. In the present work, Hockney divides the composition into three horizontal bands of saturated color representing the sky, lawn, and sidewalk, and reduces the façade to pure form through a series of rectangles carefully arranged along the vertical axis. Reflecting on his formal concerns, Hockney noted, “Buildings, roads, sidewalks were all straight lines, because that’s what L.A. looks like in the flatlands: long straight roads, right angles, cubes.”ix

     

    [left] Hockney California Bank, 1964. Private Collection, Artwork: © David Hockney [right] Robyn Denny, from The Paradise Suite, 1969. Tate, London, Artwork: © Robyn Denny

    Hockney creates a tension between the depicted flatness of the architectural façade and the literal flatness of the picture plane. “Before the sprinkler was put in, before the windows were put in, it looked at one point exactly like a symmetrical Robin Denny painting. I was consciously making a slight attempt at that, to give it an ironic touch, the way all those buildings are square,” Hockney explained. “The architecture is very typical Southern Californian architecture; you can probably find a building like it anywhere there. But many of my California pictures are more carefully constructed in an abstract way.”x

     

    At once following Clement Greenberg’s emphasis on the significance of a centered composition in abstraction and the technical precision of the Minimalist grid, the image presents an ironic engagement with abstraction while rejuvenating the sterility of 1960s American Minimalism by locating its rectilinear forms through the mid-century modern architecture of Los Angeles. Further embodying his goal to locate the node of classic representational painting and modernist abstraction, the composition bears a striking evocation of a Polaroid photograph. Between 1964 and 1967, Hockney created borders in his works by leaving a strip of bare canvas around the image, on which he explained, “This wasn’t just a framing device. It started off as a formal device...By 1967 I’d realized that the reason I was using the border was that the pictures had become more fully pictorial.”xi

    "There is something jarring about the apparent depopulation of Los Angeles…Unconsciously, perhaps, a sense of isolation emerges, not so much the somber melancholia of Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings as a feeling of aloneness as indicated by Edward Hopper’s pictures of deserted American city streets."
    —Marco Livingston

    [left] Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Sunset, 1934. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Image: © Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper/Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Ed Ruscha, House on Thirty-Eighth Street, 1965. Private Collection, Artwork: © Edward J. Ruscha IV

     

    Like the best of his California Dreaming paintings, A Neat Lawn ultimately embodies the English artist’s cultural dandyism—in his words, “It sometimes takes a foreigner to come and see a place and paint it.”xii Hockney transports the building from a crowded urban neighborhood to an idyllic, empty oasis. As Andrew Causey noted, “Emptiness rather than the life of the bars attracted Hockney as he started to paint a city which he was never to show as bustling or populous but only as building fronts and street signs.”xiii Rather than representing the physical and social realities of the city, Hockney’s paintings from this period reflect his idealized, voyeuristic vision of Los Angeles as a kind of exotic second Eden, much like Gauguin’s Tahiti or Matisse’s Morocco.

     

    Through the entirety of its construction, A Neat Lawn epitomizes Hockney’s painterly virtuosity in utilizing formal and technical devices to realize the pinnacle of artifice through a seeming realism, abstraction through representation, and reality through perception. The seductive lawn, immaculate façade, whimsically spraying jets, and the peaceful stillness at once reflect Hockney’s loving awe for the foreign city that became his muse and the sense of artificiality he had observed, embodied in his comment, “I love California; everything is so artificial.”xiv

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    • A Neat Lawn set the world record for the artist at auction when it was last offered in 2006 at $3.6 million.


    • In December 2020 in New York, Phillips achieved the world record for a landscape by Hockney with Nichols Canyon, which soared above $40,000,000.

     

    Nichols Canyon, 1980
    Achieved $41,067,500.

    i David Hockney, quoted in Nikos Stangos, ed., David Hockney by David Hockney, London, 1988, p. 151.

    ii Ibid.
    iii Ibid.
    iv Ibid., p. 98.
    v Ibid., p. 126.
    vi John Kasmin, quoted in Monica Petzal and Cathy Courtney, “Kasmin: On David Hockney’s 1967 exhibition,” National Life Stories for Artists’ Lives, audio interview transcript, British Library, London, 2004-2016.
    vii David Hockney, quoted in “1966,” The David Hockney Foundation, online.
    viii Chris Stephens, David Hockney, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2017, p. 68.
    ix David Hockney, quoted in David Hockney, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988, p. 85.
    x David Hockney, quoted in Nikos Stangos, ed., David Hockney by David Hockney, London, 1988, 126.
    xi Ibid., p. 125.
    xii David Hockney, quoted in Nigel Farndale, “The Talented Mr. Hockney,” The Telegraph, November 15, 2001.
    xiii Andrew Causey, quoted in John A. Walker, Cultural Offensive: America's Impact on British Art Since 1945, London, 1998, p. 136.
    xiv David Hockney, quoted in Paul Melia and Ulrich Luckhardt, “1963-1967: Images of Southern California,” David Hockney: Paintings, New York, 1994, p. 61.

    • Provenance

      Kasmin Limited, London
      Galerie Rudolph Springer, Berlin
      Mr. and Mrs. G. Webb, London
      Sotheby & Co., London, December 4, 1974, lot 66
      Galerie Meyer-Ellinger, Frankfurt
      Private Collection
      Sotheby's, London, December 1, 1988, lot 680
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      Christie’s, New York, May 9, 2006, lot 42
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Kasmin Limited, David Hockney A splash, a lawn, two rooms, two stains, some neat cushions and a table painted, January 1968
      Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, David Hockney Paintings and Prints, February 21 - March 15, 1969, no. 27, p. 23 (illustrated, p. 19)
      Berlin, Galerie Springer, David Hockney Bilder Zeichnungen Grafik, May 25 - June 25, 1970, n.p. (illustrated)
      Milan, Palazzo Reale, Arte Inglese Oggi 1960-1976, February-May 1976, no. 7, pl. 89, p. 99 (illustrated, p. 103)
      Bregenz, Künstlerhaus, Palais Thurn Und Taxis, Englische Kunst der Gegenwart, July 23 - October 30, 1977, no. 124, p. 147
      Karlsruhe, Badische Kunstverein, Zuruck zur Natur - aber wie? Kunst der letzen 20 Jahre, April 23 - July 3, 1988, pl. 89, pp. 88, 90, 217 (illustrated, p. 89)
      Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, David Hockney. Espace/Paysage, January 27 - April 26, 1999, pp. 68, 86 (illustrated, p. 87)
      Bonn, Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublick Deutschland, David Hockney, Exciting Times Are Ahead - Eine Retrospektive, June 1 - September 23, 2001, no. 30, pp. 104, 265 (illustrated, p. 105)
      Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, David Hockney Paintings 1960-2000, October 12, 2001 - January 27, 2002, no. 19, p. 86 (illustrated, p. 32)

    • Literature

      Norbert Lynton, The Guardian, London, January 27, 1968
      David Hockney Paintings Prints and Drawings 1960-1970, exh. cat., The Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1970, no. 67.6, p. 66 (illustrated)
      David Hockney, Kestner-Gesellschaft Katalog 3, exh. cat., Kestner-Gesellschaft Hannover, Hanover, 1970, p. 20 (the present work illustrated as Galerie Springer, Berlin, 1970, exhibition advertisement, n.p.)
      José Pierre, Le dictionnaire de Poche: Le Pop Art, Paris, 1975, p. 73 (illustrated)
      Nikos Stangos, Pictures by David Hockney, London, 1976, p. 42 (illustrated)
      Nikos Stangos, ed., David Hockney by David Hockney, New York, 1976, no. 196, pp. 16, 163, 301 (illustrated, p. 162)
      Joseph-Émile Muller and Frank Elgar, Modern Painting, Paris, 1979, no. 229, p. 58 (illustrated, p. 131)
      Edward Lucie-Smith, Movements in Art since 1945, London, 1984, fig. 114, p. 282 (illustrated, p. 140)
      Jorge Lewinsky, Portrait of the Artist: Twenty five years of British Art, Manchester, 1987, p. 91 (the artist with the present work illustrated)
      Peter Webb, Portrait of David Hockney, London, 1988, fig. 83, pp. 86-87, 94-95, 250 (the artist with the present work illustrated, n.p.)
      Paul Melia and Ulrich Luckhardt, David Hockney: Paintings, Munich, 1994, fig. 47, p. 60 (illustrated)
      David Hockney: A Drawing Retrospective, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1995, p. 102
      Rache Barnes, et. al., eds., The 20th Century Art Book, London, 1996, p. 206 (illustrated)
      Mark Francis, ed., Pop, London, 2005, p. 171 (illustrated)
      Christopher Simon Sykes, David Hockney: The Biography 1937-1975, New York, 2011, p. 198

    • Artist Biography

      David Hockney

      British • 1937

      With a career stretching from the early 1960s to the present, David Hockney is perhaps best known for his bright, cheerful works depicting pools and other everyday scenes from his life in southern California. Originally from West Yorkshire, England, Hockney studied at the Royal College of Art in London before spending decades on both sides of the Atlantic. The artist got his start as part of the British Pop movement, though he’s also cited Modern masters like Picasso and Matisse as major influences on his unique style. 

      Having worked in mediums such as painting, photography, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and more, Hockney is among the most versatile artists of his time. Drawing on his lived experience, Hockney imparts obvious references to same-sex love and companionship in his work, a motif that began even before Britain decriminalized homosexuality in 1967. His work in present in the collections of institutions such as MoMA, the Pompidou and the Tate, which granted him a blockbuster career retrospective in 2017. At present, Hockney is one of the most expensive living artists to be sold at auction. 

      View More Works

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection

Ο ◆13

A Neat Lawn

acrylic on canvas
95 3/4 x 97 in. (243.2 x 246.4 cm)
Painted in 1967.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$9,500,000 - 10,500,000 

Sold for $11,000,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021