Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘DAVID HOCKNEY’ on stretcher
Acrylic on cotton duck, 95 1/4×96 (242.5×243.9)
Purchased from the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava through the Knoedler Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1981
Prov: the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava (purchased from Kasmin Ltd, 1968)
Exh: David Hockney: a splash, a lawn, two rooms, two stains, some neat cushions and a table... painted, Kasmin Ltd, January–February 1968 (works not numbered, repr.); David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings 1960–1970, Whitechapel Art Gallery, April–May 1970 (67.5, repr.); David Hockney, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, May–June 1970 (41, repr.); David Hockney: Slike, Crtezi, Grafike 1960–1970, Muzej Savremene Umetnosti, Belgrade, September–October 1970 (30, repr.); David Hockney: Tableaux et Dessins, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, October–December 1974 (13, colour)
Lit: Nikos Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, 1976, pp.124–6, colour pl.190; Henry Geldzahler, ‘Hockney Abroad: A Slide Show’, Art in America, LXIX, February 1981, pp.136–7, repr.; Marco Livingstone, David Hockney, 1981, pp.108–11,; Carolyn Lamb, ‘David Hockney “A Bigger Splash”’, Completing the Picture: Materials and Techniques of Twenty-six Paintings in the Tate Gallery, 1982, pp.108–13, colour p.109
Repr: The Tate Gallery: Illustrated Biennial Report 1980–82, 1983, p.51 in colour

A detailed discussion of this picture, by a member of the Tate Gallery's Conservation Department, is to be found in Completing the Picture (op.cit.). Part of it was based on written replies by the artist to a questionnaire. Extracts from this essay concerning the painting's style and subject matter, but also to a certain extent the techniques employed, are reprinted below.

'“A Bigger Splash” was painted sometime between April and June 1967 while Hockney was teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. The Splash is based on a photograph he found in a book on the subject of building a swimming pool, and the background is taken from one of his drawings of Californian buildings. In many of his paintings the subject matter is a composite of personally observed details and photographic images. He feels photographs do not in themselves contain enough information to draw from but they can be developed imaginatively or used as mnemonic devices. He does not aim to produce an exact replica of the photograph.

'Discussing “A Bigger Splash” in his autobiography Hockney describes his fascination with the depiction of such an ephemeral thing as a water splash. “I love the idea first of all of painting like Leonardo, all his studies of water, swirling things. And I loved the idea of painting this thing that lasts for two seconds: it takes me two weeks to paint this event that last for two seconds” (David Hockney by David Hockney, p.124).

'The Splash was developed in three paintings. “A Little Splash” (1966) was the first version, only 16 × 20in. in size. This idea was enlarged and modified into “The Splash” (1966). Unsatisfied with the background, which he felt was too complicated, he simplified the building and landscape in the final version “A Bigger Splash” (1967). It is the largest of the three, 95 1/2 × 96in. in dimension, painted in Liquitex artists’ acrylic emulsion paint on cotton duck canvas.’

'...Hockney was greatly impressed by the acrylic paint he found in a Los Angeles art store when he moved there in 1963, and in fact gave up oils, using acrylic almost exclusively from this date until 1972. “The clear light of California suggested simple techniques as the light in a London room suggested an older ‘chiaroscuro’ technique.”

'Two painting techniques have been used in “A Bigger Splash”. Firstly a masking technique and secondly the more traditional application of paint by brush. Describing the picture, Hockney says “It's very strong Californian light, bold colour, blue skies. I rolled it on with rollers and the splash itself is painted with small brushes and little lines, it took me about two weeks to paint the splash” (David Hockney by David Hockney, p.124). The colours used were cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, Hookers green, Naples yellow and titanium white. These were applied mixed together or as tints (i.e. colour plus white for the sky and pool blue). Hockney stapled the canvas to his studio wall while he painted it. Not all of the canvas was covered by paint, the thin strip running horizontally across the centre of the painting (acting as the pool edge), and the wide canvas border were left unpainted. A canvas border was a frequently used pictorial device in his work between 1964 and 1967 - “It was a kind of concession to current art. It seemed to me that if I cut the picture off there, it became more conventional, and I was still a little frightened of that then” (ibid., p.125). No preliminary drawing was done on the canvas.’

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984