David Hockney’s Exceedingly Charming ‘Splash’ Painting Could Fetch Almost $40 Million at Sotheby’s Next Month

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The painting is expected to generate almost 630 percent more than what it sold for 14 years ago.

David Hockney, The Splash (1966). Courtesy of Sotheby's.
David Hockney, The Splash (1966). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Forty years after it was painted, David Hockney’s painting The Splash sold for $5.4 million at Sotheby’s London in 2006, setting a new auction record for the venerable British artist. Now, the same auction house hopes to make an even bigger splash with the same painting.

The 1966 canvas, which depicts the aftermath of a dive in an otherwise serene California pool, will hit the auction block once again at Sotheby’s contemporary art evening auction in London on February 11. It’s estimated to fetch between $26.2 million and $39.3 million (£20 million to £30 million)—nearly 630 percent more than the buyer bought it for just 14 years ago. The work, which was owned for a stint by legendary music producer David Geffen in the 1980s, carries a guarantee, so it is certain to sell. 

“Not only is this a landmark work within David Hockney’s oeuvre, it’s an icon of Pop that defined an era and also gave a visual identity to LA,” says Emma Baker, the head of Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale, in a statement. 

Splash follows in the wake of numerous high-profile Hockneys at auction. In fact, nine of the artist’s 10 highest auction sales have come in the last two years, according to the Artnet Price Database. They are led by another famous pool painting, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)which sold for a record $90.3 million in 2018 (and temporarily made Hockney the most expensive living artist at auction). The 82-year-old’s 1969 double portrait Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott fetched $49.5 million in March of last year, while his 1971 painting Sur la Terrasse sold for $29.5 million at Christie’s in November.

Beneath these headline figures, the Hockney market is stable, if not frothy for anything but the best pictures. All told, 21 paintings by Hockney hit the auction block last year, according to the database. Of these, four failed to sell; two sold below estimate; ten sold within estimate; and five sold above estimate.

Artist David Hockney on the set of ‘UBU ROI’ at the Royal Court Theater, London in 1966. Photo by Express Newspapers/Stringer/Getty Images.
Artist David Hockney on the set of ‘UBU ROI’ at the Royal Court Theater, London in 1966. Photo by Express Newspapers/Stringer/Getty Images.

The square 72-inch work heading to auction next month is one of three sister Splash paintings made by Hockney in the mid-to-late ‘60s, each of which features slight compositional differences. A Bigger Splash, the largest (95 by 96 inches) and best known of the bunch, was done in 1967 and has been in the collection of the Tate Modern since 1981. A Little Splash, painted in 1966, is in a private collection.

“I love the idea, first of all, of painting like Leonardo, all his studies of water, swirling things,” Hockney said of A Bigger Splash in his 1976 book Hockney by Hockney. “And I loved the idea of painting this thing that lasts for two seconds; it takes me two weeks to paint this event that lasts for two seconds. Everyone knows a splash can’t be frozen in time, so when you see it like that in a painting it’s even more striking than in a photograph.”

The Splash will go on view at Sotheby’s locations in Hong Kong, Taipei, New York and London prior to the sale on the 11th.

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