The Subject of a David Hockney Portrait That Could Fetch $45 Million at Christie’s This Week Finds His Unwanted Fame ‘Pretty Tedious’

Hockney’s former partner and model, Peter Schlesinger, opens up to Artnet News about the work.

David Hockney’s Sur la Terrasse (1971). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Last November, Christie’s New York struck gold when it shattered the auction record for a work by David Hockney when it sold his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972) for a cool $90.3 million.

Now, the auction house is hoping to recapture the magic.

Tomorrow, November 13, Christie’s is selling a 1971 painting by Hockney titled Sur la Terrasse that depicts the same subject: his former lover and model, the artist Peter Schlesinger.

Hockney and Schlesinger first met when Hockney was teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles. In news reports about the couple, Schlesinger is often referred to as Hockney’s “lover and muse.”

But Schlesinger tells Artnet News the label doesn’t fit. I think the whole muse thing is ridiculous,” he says.

Sur la Terrasse was painted in London from photographs taken at the Mamounia hotel in Marrakech, and Schlesinger also posed for Hockney a few times in London for details. In the work, the artist is looking out from the inside of a darkened hotel room on a lonely scene of Schlesinger leaning over the balcony. 

During a preview of the Christie’s sale, a specialist at the auction house described the work as capturing a moment when the artist’s relationship with Schlesinger was deteriorating. The pair had taken the trip to Marrakech in a bid to save their failing relationship, the specialist said.

But Schlesinger offers up a different narrative.

Peter Schlesinger, <i>David Hockney La Mamounia</i> (1971). Photo courtesy Peter Schlesinger.

Peter Schlesinger, David Hockney La Mamounia (1971). Photo courtesy Peter Schlesinger.

We went to Morocco with Celia Birtwell as well,” he explains, referring to the British fashion and textile designer who was another one of Hockney’s longtime friends, and who has also been cast as his muse.

“David loved to travel and loved bringing friends with him. So I’m not sure there was any other purpose to the trip,” Schlesinger says. “We traveled a lot throughout our time together. He liked drawing and photographing, making the trip ‘working’ as well.”

Asked how it feels to see the paintings he posed for being shared so widely, Schlesinger admitted to Artnet News that it gets “pretty tedious.” 

Sur la Terrasse was originally purchased from New York’s André Emmerich Gallery in 1973 by the London-based Lewis M. Kaplan around 1973. It passed through a Swiss private collection around 1975 before going to another European collector the next year.

It has only been shown publicly in 1972 and 1973. I have no idea where it’s been,” Schlesinger says. “Haven’t been able to find out either.”

The picture is estimated to sell for $25 million to $45 million. Neither this painting, nor the one that broke records last year, is guaranteed. “We do expect that the demand for Hockney, and the fact that this work has never been sold at auction, has been out of the public eye for over 25 years, and is just an absolutely gorgeous picture will drive quite a bit of interest,” a spokeswoman for the auction house tells Artnet News. “However, there’s no way to tell what will happen until it goes under the hammer.”

Schlesinger has already spoken against the prevailing narrative surrounding the record-breaking pool painting, which is often cast as a “break-up” picture. Last year, he told the Observer that it is more a conceptual painting than an “emotional” one, combining two of Hockney’s well-known motifs: the swimming pool and the double portrait.

Schlesinger, who is a sculptor and photographer, has a book of photographs coming out next fall. Published by Damiani Editore, Eight Days in Yemen includes around 150 photographs of Yemen from a trip the artist took in 1976 before the country was destroyed by civil war.

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