This is a drawing showing an elderly female figure, the artist’s mother, sitting in a wing chair. Her face appears lined and her body is frail. Wearing a simple dress with short sleeves and a round neck, the figure sits with her hands neatly folded on her lap and her legs crossed. The chair is positioned squarely within the frame but the figure sits upright against the chair’s right-hand corner, which gives a three-quarter view of the sitter. The outward thrust of the chair’s arms and the cast shadows that are densely marked behind the figure’s neck and arm, emphasise a sense of three dimensionality. Hockney has signed the drawing with his initials. It is inscribed ‘Bradford, Aug 2nd, 1972’.
This highly naturalistic portrait in pen was accomplished in one session without revisions, the product of a high degree of concentration that the artist has identified as part of his drawing practice (Stangos, p.157). Hockney’s earliest extant portraits of family members date from his time as Bradford School of Art (1953–7), as in for example Portrait of My Father 1955 (reproduced in Livingstone and Heymer, p.44). Portraiture continues to form an important part of his output. Hockney very rarely takes on portrait commissions, instead preferring to portray relatives and friends or other people he asks to sit for him.
Hockney’s mother is the subject of numerous images, ranging from line drawings such as this one, to prints, photographs and paintings. He depicted her with his father, Kenneth, in the painting My Parents (T03255) in which Laura sits rigidly on an upright chair directly facing the viewer, while Kenneth, positioned at an angle, looks downwards, closely scrutinising a book. Most of Hockney’s images of his mother are single portraits and, as in T11897, he often depicted her seated; see, for example, The Artist’s Mother 1972, a drawing in coloured crayon (reproduced in Livingstone and Heymer, p.49), and the prints Portrait of Mother I and III 1985 (P20119 and P20124). In these prints the artist employs a simplified, rough style but the frail and white-haired figure is distinctive in his oeuvre and easily recognisable.
The portrait of the mother is a common motif in art history and one imbued with a complex range of emotion. In T11897 Laura Hockney seems at ease, accustomed to the artist’s scrutiny. She does not return the viewer’s gaze. Hockney’s portrayals of his mother epitomise the humanising quality of his portraiture more generally. It seems he used the portraits of Laura Hockney over decades to explore and concretise their close bond.
Nikos Stangos, ed., David Hockney By David Hockney, London 1976.
Ulrich Luckhardt and Paul Melia, David Hockney: A Drawing Retrospective, London 1995, reproduced p.146.
Marco Livingstone and Kay Heymer, Hockney’s Portraits and People, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 2003, reproduced p.48.