'David Hockney: Drawing from Life' reopens at London's National Portrait Gallery

Self portrait by David Hockney
Self portrait by David Hockney Copyright Credit: David Hockney/National Portrait Gallery
By Theo FarrantAP
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Harry Styles, Clive Davis, Celia Birtwell and David Hockney’s chiropodist all have new portraits on display at London’s National Portrait Gallery.


David Hockney's 'Drawing from Life' exhibition has returned to the National Portrait Gallery in London after being forced to close after just 20 days in 2020 due to the first UK COVID lockdown. 

The exhibition offers a profound exploration of Hockney's life-long artistic work spanning six decades, focusing on his intimate portraits of five key sitters: his mother, Celia Birtwell, Gregory Evans, Maurice Payne, and the artist himself. 

Hockney's deep connection with these subjects has allowed him to experiment with an array of mediums and styles, ranging from pencil, pen and ink, crayon, to photographic collage and the iPad.

This year's edition of the exhibition also introduces a collection of more than 30 new portraits. Painted directly from life, these artworks capture the essence of friends and visitors to Hockney's studio in Normandy during the years 2021 and 2022.

Harry Styles and beyond

Harry Styles as painted by David Hockney
Harry Styles as painted by David HockneyCredit: David Hockney/National Portrait Gallery

One such visitor was Harry Styles, whose portrait generated quite a buzz when it was unveiled earlier this year. 

The National Portrait Gallery’s Senior Curator of Contemporary Collections, Sarah Howgate, says music executive Davis introduced Hockney to Styles’ music.

"JP - David's partner - approached Harry Styles and said, "Would you like to come and sit for a portrait?" she says. "And so he spent a couple of days in this little picturesque village in Normandy and sat for David and I think was thrilled by the experience. And it's a great painting. It's full of color and life."

The painting, showing Styles in a bright yellow and red cardigan, was completed in June last year.

David Hockney painting with Harry Styles
David Hockney painting with Harry StylesCredit: David Hockney/ Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima
Celia, Carennac, August 1971. Coloured pencil on paper by David Hockney
Celia, Carennac, August 1971. Coloured pencil on paper by David HockneyCredit: Richard Schmidt/ David Hockney

Other Normandy portraits on display include Davis (placed to the left of Styles), Hockney’s partner JP Gonçalves de Lima, his chiropodist David Fort and gardener Vincent Bocage on his tractor.

Howgate says Hockney visited the exhibition four times while it was being installed.

“This is the first time that these paintings have been exhibited. And he was very excited to see them. And so, yeah, he came in and spent time with the portraits and enjoyed quietly looking at his work in this room."

Other rooms in the exhibition are dedicated to people that Hockney has repeatedly portrayed over six decades, such as his mother, his former partner and curator Gregory Evans, and his close friend, textile designer Celia Birtwell.

There are also lots of pencil sketches, pen drawings and paintings of the artist himself.

"David Hockney: Drawing from Life" runs until 21 January 2024 at the National Portrait Gallery.

Video editor • Theo Farrant

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