David Hockney

Kaisarion and All his Beauty


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
David Hockney born 1937
Etching on paper
Image: 490 x 276 mm
Presented by Jonathan Cheshire and Gareth Marshallsea in memory of Peter Coni 1994


The source for this print is the poem 'Alexandrian Kings' by C.P. Cavafy: 'Kaisarion was standing a little forward,/ dressed in pink tinted silk,/ on his dress a garland of hyacinths,/ his belt a double row of sapphires and amethysts;/ his shoes were tied with white ribbons/ embroidered with rose coloured pearls.' It is inscribed with the title and the words 'ALEXANDRIA/ CLEOPATRA/ MUM'. Hockney was an admirer of the homoerotic poetry of Cavafy, and used it as a source of several works, most notably his series of prints Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C.P. Cavafy, 1966 (Tate Gallery P77563-77575). He made an earlier oil painting on the subject, Kaisarion, 1960 (private collection). Both of the Kaisarion pictures are typical of Hockney's Dubuffet-inspired style of his student days. The artist's work of this period frequently contained allusions to his homosexuality, and to the people he both admired and desired, often using initials or a simple number code in the manner of the American poet Walt Whitman. The 1960 painting contains the initials 'Kk'.

Further reading:
Nikos Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1976, pp.14, 64, 65, reproduced p.56
Marco Livingstone, David Hockney: Etchings and Lithographs, exhibition catalogue, Waddington Graphics, London 1988, reproduced pl.2 in colour

Terry Riggs
November 1997

Display caption

Literature often provided inspiration for Hockney's early work. In the summer of 1960, the artist discovered the homoerotic poetry of the modern Greek poet CP Cavafy. Hockney made several works based on Cavafy's imagery, culminating in the series Fourteen Illustrations for Poems from CP Cavafy (1966), which is also in the Collection. This etching is based on Cavafy's poems Alexandrian Kings and Kaisarion, which describe Kaisarion, the son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Here Kaisarion stands on a cloaked figure who may be the artist himself, next to whom is a stylised Egyptian portrait of Hockney's mother.

Gallery label, August 2004

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