Following on from the $90.3 million sale of a David Hockney masterpiece at Christie’s in New York last month, the auction house will offer another high-profile work by the artist in London in March: Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, a 1969 portrait from the collection of Barney A. Ebsworth, with an estimate in excess of £30 million (around $37.7 million). The lead lot in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening sale will mark the end of Ebsworth collection sale, which has so far brought in $323.5 million.
The double portrait, part of a series that the English artist revisited over time, depicts the famed late curator Henry Geldzahler and his artist-partner Christopher Scott in their apartment on 7th Avenue in New York. Katharine Arnold, Christie’s head of the evening sale of post-war and contemporary art in London, said in a statement, “David Hockney’s double portraits are undoubtedly some of the finest paintings the artist ever realized.”
Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas, called the painting “not only an extraordinary example from the artist’s most celebrated series” but “also a poignant representation of one of the 20th century’s greatest curators. Hockney captured Geldzahler at a particularly decisive moment when the curator was organizing his most revolutionary exhibition.” That exhibition, marking its 50th anniversary next year, was “New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott was first purchased from a gallery show in 1969 by noted art-book publisher Harry N. Abrams. When Abrams’s family sold the painting at Sotheby’s auction in November 1992, Carol Vogel of the New York Times called it “one of the high points of the sale,” and noted “spirited bidding” and “a number of telephone bidders.” The winning bidder was dealer Larry Gagosian, buying on behalf of music executive David Geffen. Vogel called the final price of $1.1 million (inclusive of fees) “a good deal . . . just above its estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million.” That sale, in addition, transpired in the depths of a recession that made for great deals on art.
Interestingly, Vogel reported in late 1993 that Geffen made the painting a promised gift to the Museum of Modern Art. In 1997, however, it was acquired by Ebsworth.
Back in 1969, an ARTnews reporter visited Hockney while he was painting the double portrait. Included in that article is a comment from Geldzahler concerning the artwork’s origins: “While I was in London in October, David and I thought that it would be nice for David to do a portrait of Christopher Scott and me. He then decided to fly to New York for a week. David took photographs and did very detailed drawings for four days until he fell apart with the flu. For the last four days of his stay he tried every home remedy in patent medicine that he had ever heard about. He also made the point over and over again that in England you can reach a doctor over the weekend. That has not been my experience. A few days ago David called and asked, I think, if Chris and I would fly to London for additional settings. I am very fond of David and flattered that he is doing my portrait. He is a good artist.”