Drawing a Legend
Hockney's Portrait of Sir John Gielgud
David Hockney's portrait of the famed actor Sir John Gielgud — who is often referred to as "the epitome of Englishness" — shows the legendary figure in his old age, with an intimacy and reverence that is typical of Hockney's sparse but electrifying line portraits of this era. Gielgud first rose to prominence in the early 1950s as a Shakespearean stage actor; his portrayal of Hamlet is seen as definitive in the canon and he was knighted in 1953 for his contributions to English theater.
Hockney likely first met Gielgud at director Tony Richardson's villa near St. Tropez, Le Nid de Duc, where British artists, writers, fashion designers, actors and socialites gathered in the summers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Hockney drew many of his close friends during these rousing vacations and Le Nid de Duc served as the setting for some of his most famous works, including Portrait Of An Artist (Pool With Two Figures).
Gielgud would have been a good deal older than most of his companions at Le Nid de Duc and was already in the second act of his career, where he took on more comedic roles in movies and television. In the present lot, Hockney captures Gielgud's English properness, dressed in a tie and suit, replete with pocket square, and exaggerates the actor's forehead, which hovers prominently over a pair of wary, discerning eyes and a small, meticulous smile. Gielgud was also known for his wit and charm and as a somewhat secretive, subversive figure — he was closeted for most of his early career, when being gay was still a punishable offense in England. Hockney hints at these characteristics in the delightful rumple of the sleeves, the askant pinky ring and buttons, and the fussy, urbane positioning of Gielgud's hands and body. Channeling the quintessentially self-effacing and wry English sensibility, Gielgud later said: "David Hockney did a drawing of me when I was 70 and I thought that if I really looked like that, I must kill myself tomorrow."