Sell the Hockney, say the Royal Opera House

October 4 2020

Image of Sell the Hockney, say the Royal Opera House

Picture: The Guardian

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Royal Opera House in London has announced that it is selling a portrait by David Hockney to raise £18m for essential funds. Hockney's 1971 portrait of former director Sir David Webster is set to be sold at Christie's later this year carrying an estimate of £11m - £18m.

The Royal Opera House's chief executive Alex Beard is quoted saying:

This was a really tough call, but we have to face the situation we are in and if we can remain viable and get through this, then we can get back to employing people in the future.

We are the biggest arts employer in the country and we knew we had to look at any assets we had, and there is only really one of any note that stands out and that is this portrait.

The organisation is set to make redundancies as well as begin a drive for donations.


Such drastic measures from such prestigious cultural institutions are very worrying indeed. One can't help but have sympathy for theatres and their employees who are being so brutally punished for following government guidelines. Yet, it's also sad to see that the plundering of historic collections, or 'assets' as they refer to them, are the only way out of this mess.

It seems that this portrait carries a great deal of spiritual significance to the Royal Opera House in both historic and aesthetic terms. Although I'm hardly the right person to make any judgements on twentieth century art, personally I'm left wondering whether this picture really has as much market appeal as some of Hockney's more celebrated works. It has a rather institutional aesthetic about it, resembling the charm of a dentist waiting room. 

We'll wait and see if this is a growing trend.

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