LONDON — It was a thrilling night in London as Sotheby’s recent Contemporary Art Evening Auction saw a selection of iconic and powerful works go under the hammer, achieving a sale total of more than $120 million.
Foremost among them was David Hockney’s sumptuous portrayal of Californian living, The Splash, which sold for $29,839,424. One of the defining works of the Pop Art movement, the vibrant luxury of its blue skies and carefree poolside ephemerality are today etched in the fabric of contemporary cultural imagination. This was the third highest price achieved for a work by Hockney at auction, and eight times the price achieved when the work last appeared at auction in 2006.
According to Sotheby’s, The Splash is undoubtedly one of the most iconic Pop art images of the Twentieth Century. In tandem with its sister painting, A Bigger Splash, Hockney’s composition of a sun-drenched swimming pool disturbed by a torrent of cascading water is a definitive image, not only within the artist’s career and the Pop Art movement at large, but also within the greater canon of art history itself.
“Indeed, looking beyond the Twentieth Century, there are very few artworks to have attained such a status: equally as recognizable as Edvard Munch’s The Scream, Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Claude Monet’s Waterlilies, this motif is a masterstroke of ingenuity that sits squarely in the select pantheon of true art history icons. Semiotically tied to our very understanding of what Pop art is and inextricable from an ideal of Californian living, this image is utterly ingrained within the contemporary cultural imagination. It is an irrefutably famous and undeniably rare painting of masterpiece calibre and mythic proportion,” said Sotheby’s.
Painted in Los Angeles towards the end of 1966, The Splash is the second in a three-part sequence of variations on the very same theme. It is sandwiched between the much smaller The Little Splash (in a private collection) and A Bigger Splash, which was created early the following year in Berkeley while Hockney was fulfilling a teaching post. When comparing the two, the present work’s scale of 72 by 72 inches is immersive and rivals the colossal dimensions of its sister version at Tate Britain; the compositions are almost identical, with large bands of unprimed canvas framing the clean lines and still color fields of the central image, while the splash itself is rendered with equal deftness and dexterity in both canvases – the immediacy of a split-second moment is here immortalized by brush strokes of careful application and minute articulation.
The Splash and its pendent piece undoubtedly represent the apex of Hockney’s Californian fantasy which truly began following the artist’s first trip to LA in 1964, said Sotheby’s.