‘Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott’ by David Hockney
‘Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott’ by David Hockney – £33m at Christie’s. Image: Christie's Images Ltd 2019.

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Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, a 7ft x 10ft (2.14 x 3.05m) acrylic on canvas from 1969 came from the collection of the late Barney A. Ebsworth, the bulk of which was sold by Christie’s in November raising $323m (£248.5m). The Hockney was the only piece of non-American art in the consignment.

Part of a series of seven double portraits that Hockney executed between 1968 and 1975 of which only one other remains in private hands, the painting offered last night (March 6) depicts the New York curator Geldzahler with his then-partner.

Hockney had first met Geldzahler in 1963 in Andy Warhol’s ‘factory’ and their mutual love of opera helped establish a close friendship. At this time Hockney was beginning to receive acclaim and, at the time this painting was executed six years later, Geldzahler was organising what became his landmark exhibition at Metropolitan Museum of Art titled New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970 but which became widely known in artistic circles simply as ‘Henry’s Show’.

Christie’s described the painting as “a glowing meditation on human and visual relationships”.

European record

The picture had appeared at auction once before when it made $1.1m at Sotheby’s in 1992 but, having changed hands at least once after that, Ebsworth bought the work from New York dealers Mitchell-Innes & Nash in 1997.

With Hockney’s market recently taken to a new level by the major record set at Christie’s New York in November – ‘Portrait of an ‘Artist (Pool with Two Figures)’ from 1972 became the most expensive work by a living artist when it was knocked down for $80m (£61.6m) – the auctioneers placed a cool £30m-50m estimate on Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott.

Christie’s arranged a third-party guarantee on the picture meaning it was always bound to sell on the night and, after opening the bidding at £28m, it was knocked down at £33m.

Christie’s said the price made it the most expensive by a living artist sold in Europe.

The sum, which was the highest across London’s Contemporary art week, provided almost half of the sale’s overall hammer total of £67.4m (£79.2m with premium) with 38 of the 41 lots finding buyers on the night (93%).

The total was slightly down on the £77.9m raised at rivals Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale the previous night from 60 lots, although Christie’s achieved the higher average lot value.

‘Bouteilles’ (Bottles) by Nicolas de Staël

One lot that drew significant interest at Christie’s was ‘Bouteilles’ (Bottles) by Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955). The oil on canvas from 1952 surpassed a £1.8m-2.5m estimate and was knocked down at £3.8m. Image: Christie's Images Ltd 2019.