David Hockney’s Double Portrait of a Legendary Met Curator and His Partner Could Fetch Almost $40 Million

The artist's painting of Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott will hit the auction block in London.

David Hockney, Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1968–69). Photo: Christie's Ltd.

David Hockney is likely to continue his auction hot streak in London next year, when the artist’s intense double portrait Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1968–69) hits the auction block. The work, due to be sold at Christie’s London postwar and contemporary sale on March 6, carries an estimate in excess of £30 million ($37.75 million) and is the final work to be sold from the collection of the late travel magnate Barney A. Ebsworth.

The British painter became the most expensive living artist to sell at auction last month when another double work, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972), sold at Christie’s New York for $90.3 million with fees. The auction house wisely held back this work until the following season, when it wouldn’t be overshadowed by its more famous and brighter-hued sibling. Instead, it will be able to ride the wave of the new auction record.

David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972). Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.

David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

The painting, like the entire Ebsworth collection, has been secured by a financial guarantee, so it is certain to sell. It is also likely to outpace Hockney’s second-highest auction price, $28.5 million, which was set at Sotheby’s this past spring for Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica (1990), a landscape from a later (and less sought-after) chapter in the artist’s career.

Even before the upcoming portrait sale, Hockney has had a remarkable year on the auction block: All five of his most expensive works were sold in 2018, according to the artnet Price Database. The market boost follows his acclaimed traveling retrospective, which was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until February. Both Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott and Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) were included in the exhibition.

The former painting is a portrait of legendary curator Henry Geldzahler, known for bringing modern and contemporary art to the Met, with Geldzahler’s then-partner Christopher Scott. Geldzahler and Hockney met at Andy Warhol’s studio in 1963 and became fast friends.

The work debuted in 1969 at an exhibition at André Emmerich Gallery in New York. It remained in the family of book publisher Harry Abrams until 1992, when they sold it at Sotheby’s during a market downturn. Larry Gagosian purchased the work on behalf of mega-collector and music executive David Geffen, according to the New York Times, for $1.1 million, below the low estimate of $1.5 million. As ARTnews points out, Geffen had made the work a promised gift to New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1993, but it was still acquired by Ebsworth in 1997. He lived with it in his home for 22 years.

Geldzahler told the Washington Post of the painting in 1979: “In his picture David finally gave up the idea of being a ‘modern artist’ and decided, instead, to be the best artist he could be.”

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