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Sunday, 23 January 2022

Painting of the Month (98) Jan 2022: David Hockney

 Mr and Mrs Clark & Percy

Mr and Mrs Clark & Percy, David Hockney, Acrylic on Canvas, 1971

This painting depicts the newly-married fashion designer Ossie Clark and his wife the textile designer Celia Birtwell in their flat in Notting Hill, London, with one of the couple's cats on Clark's knee. Actually, Percy was their other cat but Hockney thought that Percy made a better title; read on to find out why! It is a very large canvas so that the figures are nearly life-sized. They are both looking directly outward making the viewer a third person in the triangle. Typically, the cat disdains this and looks out of the window. The room is stark in a 1960s minimalist style.

Among the various sources that Hockney drew on was Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Marriage (see below). There is plenty of symbolism in both works. The Arnolfini dog, which represents fidelity, is replaced by the cat, a symbol of the penis, and representing lack of fidelity ('Percy' is a slang term for a penis).

Hockney's portrait, with the bride standing and the groom sitting, reverses the convention of traditional wedding portraiture, such as Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough (also shown below). Indeed Hockney shows the Clarks standing apart, a foreshadowing of their 1974 divorce because of his bi-sexual infidelity. And the reversal of roles hints that she is the dominant party.

The lilies next to Celia Birtwell, a symbol of female purity, are also associated with depictions of the Annunciation; at the time of the portrait she was pregnant.

Hockney worked and reworked the portraits many times until he was satisfied, repainting Clark's head perhaps twelve times. He achieves the difficult task of balancing the dark figures against the light flooding in through the window behind them.

I’m listening to La maison où j'ai grandi by French singer Françoise Hardy. The title means The House Where I Grew UpIn the sixties I was really taken with her. You’d have thought I’d have grown out of it by now! Listen here