David Hockney is without a doubt one of the leading artists of the 21st century. He made headlines in 2018 after his masterpiece, ‘Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)’ from 1972, sold for $80 million at auction, making Hockney the most expensive living artist and skyrocketing demand for his works. The past couple of years has seen a stream of other swimming pool works come to auction, in hopes of fetching similar excitement as seen from the historic 2018 sale. However, the market’s fixation on Hockney’s swimming pool works has led to other series of work to be largely overshadowed. That being said, recent market activity suggests that might be changing.

David Hockney's 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)', 1972. Image courtesy of Christie's.

At a recent Christie’s sale, three works by Hockney, all owned by mega-collector Paul Allen, depicting the Yorkshire countryside and painted after the turn of the century, blew through their estimates, sparking up heated bidding wars in the auction room and suggesting newfound interest in the artist’s later series of landscapes.

Three later landscape works by Hockney that all blew past their estimates at auction. Images courtesy of Christie's.

In 2005, Hockney left Los Angeles and returned back to England, settling in East Yorkshire. This move marked a new chapter in his career. Over the ensuing years, Hockney worked across mediums, spanning canvas works to iPad drawings, to illustrate the changing seasons and evolving beauty of the surrounding landscape. Up until now, these later works have been largely under-appreciated compared to Hockney’s more famous series of swimming pools and double portraits from the 70s and 80s. 

Fuelling the recent demand for Hockney’s later landscapes could be the fact that earlier Hockney works have hit such a significant price-high that it’s nearly impossible for newer collectors to buy in. The later landscapes still retain all the stylistic traits specific to Hockney’s practice but at a significantly lower price point. 

Hockney’s market rise over the past decade can in part be credited to a series of sell-out institutions retrospectives between 2017 and 2018. Taking place at the Tate in London in early 2017, the Centre Pompidou in late 2017, and finally the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2018, Hockney’s institutional recognition secured his place within art history and saw an influx of works come to auction. Looking at the latest auction results, we can see that Hockney’s later landscapes have seemingly doubled in value since the retrospective tour. One of Allen’s works, a painting of the artist’s home engulfed by trees and plants, entitled ‘The Gate’ (2000), sold for $14 million dollars. This comes after its previous sale of $7 million in 2016, just before the Tate retrospective launched.

Hockney working on a painting. Image courtesy of Garage Magazine.

To add to Hockney’s critical acclaim, the British-artist seems to have struck a chord with social-media users and the general public. David Hockney: Bigger & Closer, an immersive large-scale projection show currently on in London, has been packed out since its opening in January. Similar furore was seen with London’s previous immersive experience of Vincent Van Gogh, perhaps signalling that Hockney is becoming as recognisable to crowds as some of the masters from art history.

At the very same auction in May, a set of landscape and nature paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe also blew well past their respective estimates. Alongside Hockney, O’Keeffe’s works have been gaining similar traction at auction, begging the greater question of if we are at a point where abstraction is so omnipresent in today’s art world that collectors are craving something that harkens back to more classical modes of painting.