Sotheby’s is taking advantage of the London crowds viewing contemporary art in advance of the sales next week to unveil a David Hockney painting that will be auctioned in their Hong Kong evening sale of contemporary art to be held on April 6. The large six-foot square painting, 30 Sunflowers, was sold in 2011 long before the run-up in Hockney’s market, at Phillips in New York for $2.5 million. It previously had only one owner. The work is being offered with its estimate upon request—a way for the auctioneers to adjust expectations against reactions. But the whisper number is set at 80 million Hong Kong dollars, or around $10.3 million.
Sotheby’s calls the painting “a magnificent update of the classic still life for contemporary times, bearing strong reminiscence to Vincent van Gogh’s iconic Sunflowers while articulating an unabashedly radical yet intimately personal approach.” If that were not enough, Sotheby’s goes on to rapturously describe the work as “radiant, exuberant, and deeply poignant” before concluding that it is “the supreme quintessence of Hockney’s mature artistic output.”
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The painting will be unveiled at Sotheby’s in London on Friday, February 7, before traveling to Los Angeles, Jakarta, Hong Kong, and Taipei.
Why the Asian tour? Yuki Terase, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art, Asia, said in a statement, “Having witnessed substantial interest in Hockney amongst Asian collectors in our international sale locations, this was a natural move for us. The flower still life is furthermore a popular motif for Asian audiences.”
30 Sunflowers was featured on the cover of the catalogue for Hockney’s 1997 exhibition “Flowers, Faces and Spaces.” It was painted the year before, when Hockney turned 60 during a time of personal turmoil and loss. The flower still lifes marked the artist’s return to figurative painting after a decade working in photography.
In response to Hockney’s experience at exhibitions of work by Monet and Vermeer in Chicago and the Hague, Hockney painted a series of 25 or so flower still lifes. But only two of the paintings are on the scale of this one; the other is the less intricate and exciting Halaconia in Green Vase.