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David Hockney’s The Splash fetches £23.1m at auction

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The Splash has been in private ownership since 2006

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One of British artist David Hockney’s most famous works, The Splash, has been sold for £23.1m at Sotheby’s in London.

The buyer is not known. It had been estimated to sell for £20m-£30m – and ended up going for £23,117,000.

The painting, in Hockney’s minimalist style, depicts the moment after a diver hits the water in an LA swimming pool.

It is considered one of the stand-out pop art images of the 20th Century and is one of a trio of works alongside A Little Splash and A Bigger Splash.

A Bigger Splash is housed in London’s Tate Britain while A Little Splash remains in a private collection and has never appeared on the public market.

“Not only is this a landmark work within David Hockney’s oeuvre, it’s an icon of Pop that defined an era and also gave a visual identity to LA,” Emma Baker, head of Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale, said in a statement.

When it was previously sold to a private owner in 2006 it went for £2.9m – a then record price for a Hockney work – and it has remained with that buyer until now.

Prior to that, the £1.9m sale of A Neat Lawn, also in 2006, had set a precedent for a Hockney.

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David Hockney was inspired to create his Splash series by his early years in Los Angeles

Since then, the growing interest among the most wealthy in the value-holding investment benefits of high-end contemporary art have seen auction prices climb.

This was illustrated at a 2018 auction at Christie’s in New York where Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for just over $90m (£70m) – an auction record at the time for a work by a living artist.

It’s since been beaten by the $91.1m (£70.3m) sale in 2019 of a sculpture by US pop artist Jeff Koons.

In May 2018, Hockney’s Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica sold for $28.5m (£22m) – which was more than double the previous auction record for the artist.

The Splash captures the brief moment just seconds after a swimmer has broken the calm surface of a pool.

The painting’s protagonist is present, yet absent, hidden by the displaced water. The work is a classic example of Hockney’s lifelong fascination with the texture, appearance and depth of water.

The Splash series was inspired by the time Hockney spent in Los Angeles following his graduation from art school.

He first visited the Californian city in 1964. On return to London later that year, he began to work on his first pool painting, Picture of a Hollywood Swimming Pool, which fetched $7.2m (£5.6m) at an auction at Sotheby’s New York in November 2019.

In 1966, he went back to Los Angeles and moved into an apartment in the city. It was there that Hockney, in his new sun-soaked environment, created the Splash paintings between 1966 and 1967.

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