Woman with a Sewing Machine is one of David Hockney’s earliest prints. It is a lithograph in six coloured inks (red, yellow, blue, green, pink and black) on off-white, wove, machine-made paper. It depicts a bespectacled woman, shown half-length and apparently sitting at her sewing table. The foreground is dominated by an old-fashioned sewing machine. The woman is not working but posing, looking out towards the viewer with her hands neatly clasped on the table. She is dressed primly in a striped red blouse with a lace collar and her grey hair is arranged in an extravagant bouffant. The composition, which accentuates flatness over the illusion of space, offers instead areas of detailed and diverse patterning and colour in the background: a design of yellow swirls on the wall-paper, and a fireplace surround adorned with tiles in checked patterns of white, blue and green that creates a partial frame around the sitter.
This work is one of three prints that Hockney made in 1954 when he was seventeen and a student at Bradford School of Art (1953–7). The two other prints are Self Portrait and Fish and Chip Shop (reproduced in David Hockney Prints, figs.1 and 3 [pp.20 and 22]). Bradford School of Art was a liberating experience for the artist, as he has explained:
I was interested in everything at first ... It was thrilling after being at the Grammar School, to be at a school where I knew I would enjoy everything they asked me to do. I loved it all and I used to spend twelve hours a day in the art school. For four years I spent twelve hours a day there every day.
(Quoted in Stangos, p.34.)
Amongst the artist’s earliest works, produced while at Bradford Grammar School, were drawings and cartoons for the school magazine, and Hockney’s first prints preserve some of the qualities of the caricature. With Fish and Chip Shop, as Woman with a Sewing Machine, Hockney experiments with a genre scene peopled by naively drawn, cartoon-like, figures. The artist’s mother (Laura Hockney, 1900–99) served as the model for Woman with a Sewing Machine (David Hockney Prints 1954–77, [p.21]). Hockney would go on to portray her numerous times and in a range of mediums (see, for example, T11897, T03255 and P20119).
In Woman with a Sewing Machine the artist seems to be concerned above all with the technical concerns of the lithographic medium, a process in which an image is applied to a plate or stone using greasy ink or crayon. In this print, in areas where the plate was left inkless the off-white of the paper acts as highlighting to indicate light direction and the shiny surface of the sewing machine wheel. Whilst the ink has been loosely handled, the linear drawing is detailed. Hockney produced five impressions of this print, but the edition is not numbered.
Nikos Stangos, ed., David Hockney By David Hockney, London 1976, reproduced p.46, fig.11.
David Hockney Prints 1954–77, exhibition catalogue, Midland Group, Nottingham 1979, reproduced fig.2 [p.21].
Marco Livingstone and Kay Heymer, Hockney’s Portraits and People, London 2003.