The story begins on a stormy Sunday afternoon in 1955 when Peter Richards and wife Wendy welcomed two sodden hitchhikers into their home alongside the A1 in Bedfordshire. The youngsters were on their way to London to view an exhibition; one of them was Hockney, the other was Norman Stevens, a fellow student at Bradford College of Art.
Finding the two friends sheltering under the eaves of their cottage, the Richardses offered them refuge, making them cups of tea and drying their clothes. After heading on their way, Hockney decided to keep in touch and maintained a friendship with the couple for many years.
Not long later he gave them a ceramic cat, made in the same black and white colours as their family pet at the time, to thank them for their kindness on that rainy Sunday. Measuring 14in (35cm) high, it was one of six cat sculptures produced by the artist while still studying in Bradford.
All featuring in different colours, five were given as thank-you gifts by Hockney with the other being a wedding present. The example given to the Richardses is considered to be the first cat Hockney made. With Wendy having sadly died some time ago and Peter now in his 90s and living in Thorpe Bay, Essex, he decided to sell the cat, as well as other Hockney items still in his possession, to benefit his grandchildren.
Cards and letters
Estimated at £30,000- 40,000, the ceramic cat was offered with accompanying documentation from Hockney, including sketches for the cat’s design as well as letters and cards sent by Hockney to the couple over the years. It drew a flurry of interest as multiple online and phone bidders competed. With over 10 parties from the UK and two from the US, it was eventually knocked down at £89,500 (£111,875 with fees) to a UK buyer on the phone. Peter Richards was present in the room to watch his cat find a new home.
The price, a house record for an individual lot at Stacey’s, exceeded the previous auction high for a Hockney ceramic cat which was set at a Christie’s day sale in June this year when another example fetched £75,000 (£94,500 with fees).
One of the other three Richards lots that drew attention was a unique coloured woodblock and hand-painted card of the black and white cat that was made by Hockney in c.1956-57. With a handwritten inscription on the back saying Christmas Greetings from David H, it was estimated at £3000- 5000 but sold at £14,000 to the same buyer as the ceramic cat.