It was a pastel painting of a snapshot from almost anywhere: muted green fields split by a beaten footpath, and a thin tree line edging the horizon. Thick, visible brushstrokes and a shaky signature in the corner. The work’s owner brought it on BBC‘s Antiques Roadshow hoping the show’s host would uncover some hidden worth. He and the crowd of curious onlookers were stunned to hear it was a previously unknown David Hockney, Britain’s most lauded living painter, and worth upwards of £30,000 ($36,000).
In the clip aired by the BBC, the program’s art expert, Rupert Maas called it an “extraordinary story.”
The painting’s owner, who was not identified by the BBC, said his grandfather met a young Hockney while working at a train station in the English village of Trimley St Marty in 1957. Hockney and his companion were a peculiar sight for the quiet station, their arms loaded with art supplies and clearly far between meals. As the story was told, the grandfather – called Wallace by his grandson – invited them to his home for a Sunday lunch.
“He said ‘oh, bring a painting’ and Wallace bought a painting from each of them,” the painting’s owner recalled. Maas, who had surely heard a few tall tales as host of the long running series, was “initially incredulous,” but later research revealed that Hockney had been in the area in 1957 on a sort of pilgrimage to the Suffolk countryside that had inspired painter John Constable.
Hockney, now 85, is one of the most popular and easily recognized painters of his generation. His best-known works are of people and places charged with memory and smoothly rendered with intense colors and a dreamlike distortion. For a British painter, he’s made some of the twentieth century’s most iconic depictions of Southern California, such as the famously languorous Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool (1966) and A Bigger Splash (1967). Works from the “California Dreaming” series easily go for millions of dollars at auction; A Neat Lawn, from 1967, sold at Phillip’s for $11,000,000 in 2021.
“This is not at all what I am used to seeing by David Hockney,” Maas told the BBC, describing the pastoral painting as “very rough and ready”, with a “wobbly signature”.
“I have this idea they only had green and brown with them, because they were broke,” he said.