Sotheby’s is to auction David Hockney’s The Splash in London this February, at an estimate of £20-30 million – over six times the price is achieved when the work last sold at auction for £2.9 million in 2006. Painted in 1966, the piece is Hockney’s best known and loved work, and arguably one of the most widely recognisable paintings in history, the inspiration for countless creative works and homages to this day.
“Not only is this a landmark work within David Hockney’s oeuvre, it’s an icon of pop [art] that defined an era and also gave a visual identity to LA,” says Emma Baker, head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale, where the painting is to be auctioned next month. “Even looking beyond the 20th century, few artworks have attained as mythic a status as this painting. Equally as recognisable as Munch’s series of screams, Monet’s water lilies or Van Gogh’s flowers, Hockney’s splash is ingrained within our cultural imagination.”
The Splash is one of three works in a series by Hockney, sitting in the middle of A Little Splash, which is part of a private collection and never offered publicly; and A Bigger Splash, which is part of the Tate collection. The three paintings secured the artist’s international reputation as a leading artist of his generation and cemented his renown for combining minimalism, modernist abstraction and pop art in his own distinctive way.
All three depict a serene, saturated poolside with a modernist house in the background, and in the foreground a diving board whose most recent partaker has disappeared under the water’s surface moments before. What’s left is a splash – the only movement to disturb an otherwise minimalist scene.
Hockney said of the work, in his book Hockney by Hockney: “I love the idea, first of all, of painting like Leonardo, all his studies of water, swirling things. 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 Hong Kong, Taipei, New York and London prior to the Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 11 February 2020.