Hockney, 10th best-selling artist in the world in 2023


Demand for David Hockney’s work is growing rapidly and his price index has risen by 562% since the start of the millennium.

On 21 September Phillips in London will be hosting another auction entirely dedicated to the work of British artist David HOCKNEY following a first sale that generated more than GBP 6.6 million (±$8.2 million) in September 2022. Indeed, given the popularity of Hockney’s work with bidders, Phillips has decided to turn these ‘specialized’ sales into an annual event (every September) with works ranging from prints (some rare) to photographs and original works on paper or canvas, and estimates ranging from $500 to $150,000. Phillips will be focusing primarily on Hockney’s ‘middle-market’ while Christie’s and Sotheby’s try to include major works in their prestige sales, with prices that can reach tens of millions of dollars.

On May 11, Christie’s managed to include three important Hockney paintings in its 20th Century Evening Sale, and sold each one between 10 and 20 million dollars. These three excellent results – plus three other canvases and nearly 450 prints already hammered in 2023 – have raised David Hockney to 10th position in our provisional 2023 global ranking of artists by their annual auction turnover, among the more than 135,000 signatures presented on the global art auction market since the beginning of the year.

Generous enthusiasm

David Hockney’s work appeals to an increasingly broad audience. Already in 2017-2018 a major traveling retrospective was highly successful, attracting over a million visitors between the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Tate Modern in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The event illustrated the genuine enthusiasm for his work and was, for the Tate, the most visited exhibition of work by a living artist ever put on, and, for the Pompidou Centre, the second most visited show by a still-active artist in the museum’s history.

This enthusiasm has of course been reflected on the auction market. Currently, 85% of his works find buyers in public sales, a particularly strong success rate. By comparison, the sold-through rate for works by Pablo Picasso – the leading artist on the art auction market by turnover – stands at 81%, and Basquiat’s sold-through rate is 73%. Hockney is therefore one of the most sought-after artists in the world (transactions on his works have grown 67% over the last decade and 395% over the last two decades, reaching more than 770 last year), and one of the most highly-valued, with an auction record at $90.3 million for his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)  (1969) sold by Christie’s in 2018. Indeed, that result above $90 million temporarily gave him the title of “most expensive living artist in the world”. Hockney was 81 at the time.


David Hockney – Number of lots sold annually at auction, in thousands (copyright Artprice.com)


Following the 2018 auction record, his major works were significantly revalued when they reappeared on the market. The latest was The Gate (2000), a large oil painting that fetched $14.7 million on 11 May last at Christie’s versus $6.8 million at Phillips in 2016. The addition of nearly $8 million in just seven years, clearly illustrates the determination of the most fortunate collectors to obtain a masterpiece by one of the most essential artists of our time.

Another example dates back to February 2020 when Sotheby’s offered The Splash, a Pop icon that – as Emma Baker, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art Evening Sales in London explained at the time – “is as recognizable as Munch’s series of screams, Monet’s water lilies or Van Gogh’s flowers”. The Splash sold for nearly $30 million at more than eight times the price it fetched in 2006.


Examples of price hikes on paintings by David Hockney

Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott: + 4,850% since 1992

Sold for a hammer price of $1 million in 1992 (Sotheby’s), it fetched $49.5 million in 2019 (Christie’s)


The Splash: + 454% since 2006

Sold for $5.4 million in 2006 (Sotheby’s), it fetched $29.9 million in 2020 (Sotheby’s)


A Neat Lawn: + 1,780% since 1988

Sotheby’s, London, 1 December 1988: $585,000

Christie’s, New York, 9 May, 2006: $3.6 million (+515%)

Phillips, New York, 23 June 2021: $11 million (+205%)


Sixty years breathing new life into landscapes

Born in 1937 in Bradford (Yorkshire), David Hockney entered the Royal College of Art in London in 1957. In the 1960s, he moved away from Abstract Expressionism and began to experiment with a style combining abstract, figurative and pop art. A few years later, when he moved to Los Angeles, his work became naturalistic and more autobiographical: he painted domestic scenes and his famous swimming pools, notably, The Bigger Splash which earned him international fame. He also produced numerous portraits, often of members of his close family or friends. From the 1970s, he devoted himself more to large-format double portraits, a format he would later reproduce in his watercolors. In the 1980s, David Hockney used photography in the form of photo-collages to reconstruct places, landscapes, objects and explore new dimensions, a technique that allowed him to render the immensity of landscapes like the Grand Canyon. From the early 1990s, Hockney turned towards a more abstract style with a series of works titled Some Very New Paintings, marking a third phase of research into the treatment of space in landscapes (he described them as “internal landscapes”).

In 2002, after nearly forty years in California, Hockney returned to his native England where he again reconsidered the place of landscapes in the history of painting, becoming enthusiastic about the works of J.M.W. Turner and John Constable and exploring rural Britain. His outdoor paintings offer a luminous palette with extremely daring supernatural tones and a vivacity that recalls works by Matisse and the dashing Fauvists of the early 20th century.

Prolific, energetic and ingenious, Hockey has experimented with multiple techniques during his career: photo-montages, fax machines and photocopiers at a time when these tools were just becoming popular, quick drawings on iphone using the Brushes Redux app, and of course the Ipad, which has been his main working tool since its release in 2010. Today, he depicts the evolution of the seasons and plant life on his tablet with remarkably casual skill. It’s outdoor work – just like the Impressionists – but digital.

At 86, Hockney continues his observations of the world around him (landscapes, domestic scenes, flowers, self-portraits) and his dialogue between classical techniques and the technology of his time. Nowadays he is based in a quiet little corner of France’s Normandy region (Rumesnil)… far removed from the excitement of Los Angeles.


David Hockney’s price index at auction (copyright Artprice.com)