Liverpool artwork of the week 2009-46. David Hockney, ‘Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy’, 1970-71, Acrylic on canvas in the Walker.
One of my favourite Hockney paintings is in temporary residence at the Walker whilst their ‘Peter getting out of Nick’s pool’ is on loan to the new Nottingham Contemporary art gallery for their Hockney exhibition. I asked Ann Bukantas, the Walker’s Head of Fine Art, to tell us more about it and you can hear her response on our podcast website
This painting was short-listed for the title of ‘Greatest Painting in Britain’ in a 2005 poll launched by the BBC’s Today programme.
Hockney began this portrait of fashion designer Ossie Clark and fabric designer Celia Birtwell shortly after their wedding, at which Hockney was best man. The couple are shown in their London flat. Hockney made drawings and took photographs there, but they also modelled in his studio owing to the painting’s size. The cat on Clark’s lap is actually thought to be ‘Blanche’, but Hockney felt ‘Percy’, the name of the couple’s other cat, sounded better.
Hockney struggled with the painting for nearly a year, re-working Clark’s head as many as 12 times. He aimed to capture the couple’s complex and unconventional relationship, along with its tensions. Traditional conventions of wedding portraiture are reversed,with the man seated while the woman stands. The couple’s marriage didn’t last. Hockney once commented that,“Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy probably caused it”.
This is one of a series of large double portraits that Hockney began in the late 1960s. Although some areas appear flattened or simplified, Hockney felt it was one of his paintings that came closest to Naturalism.