Covent Garden nets just £11 million from Hockney sale

Covent Garden nets just £11 million from Hockney sale


norman lebrecht

October 23, 2020

The controversial sale of David Hockney’s painting of the Royal Opera House’s first modern manager David Webster went ahead last night despite vociferous public opposition.

The hammer price of £12.8 million was at the low end of the auction house’s estimate. The opera house will receive £11 million after paying commission, equivalent to about half its annual public subsidy. Whether this outweighs the reputational damage remains to be seen.

‘As we face the biggest crisis in our history, the sale of David Hockney’s wonderful portrait of Sir David Webster, is a vital part of our strategy for recovery,’ said Alex Beard, the ROH chief executive. The artist himself was said to be deeply offended.




  • Scordatura says:

    Who purchased the painting and will it be loaned to the opera house?

  • Ned Keane says:

    The ROH is there to put on opera, not to be an art collection. I doubt it’s “reputational damage” will stop anyone going to see an opera. But running out of money most certainly would.

    • Una says:

      It was a gift! It wasn’t an investment piece to form an art gallery of himself. You just don’t get it! And not surprised if David Hockney is offended. It’s a shabby auction.

  • Ned Keane says:

    Please correct the it’s on my last comment. Bloody autotyping on my phone!

  • M McAlpine says:

    Vociferous public opposition? I haven’t heard any apart from on your website. I can’t think why anyone would want the painting anyway let alone pay that price for it. If it helps fill a hole ind the finances then well and good. Just hope the ROH will put on some decent productions instead of some of the rubbish we have seen recently.

    • Robin Worth says:

      You are only partially correct : the ROH needs the money badly and this will help bridge the gap in their finances.
      And you are right that some of the recent productions at the ROH have been poor (Pique Dame comes to mind)
      But the portrait is from the period when some would say Hockney was at his best and I suspect that the buyer felt that way

  • Papageno says:

    can I buy the cool chair he’s sitting on?

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    Help me understand why an opera house has a responsibility to a work of visual art. If selling it can help move the house towards again producing performances, isn’t that the priority? I’m sure if Mr. Hockney suddenly had trouble paying his mortgage, he’d have no trouble rushing his latest to Sotheby’s for some ready money.

  • Christine Todd says:

    What theROH have been putting on lately, might not be to yours, or my taste, but they are trying to do the best they can with the financesl they have, just stop to think what it costs to keep s building like the ROH going, let alone the staff. I loved the painting.

  • caranome says:

    “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
    –Richard III

  • GCMP says:

    Seems the sale was rather rushed – may explain the low price.

  • Dan White says:

    I think ROH has avoided ‘reputational damage’ by doing everything it can to pay it’s full time employees. Can we say the same about the Met who have thrown their musicians and dancers to the wolves??? It’s a painting Norman. Get a grip

  • Greg Bottini says:

    12.8 million quid for an Ikea illustration????
    I think the ROH made out like bandits, and I’m shocked that any reputable auction house would have an even higher estimate.
    And where is all the “vociferous public opposition”, other than yours, Norman?

  • Glerb says:

    Good for them. No-one batted an eyelid when Glyndebourne sold their Domenichino for £9m in 2009

  • grey says:

    should have waited until hockney died and got more money for that rubbish

  • Andrew Hogbin says:

    I am astonished that anyone would want such a hideous picture but that is not the point. He was a key figure in the post-war revival of culture in Britain. Maybe shades of the culture wars here too?

  • Adesiana says:

    Hockney was deeply offended? Why didn’t he help, being the richest living artist.

  • Opera Lover says:

    a disgraceful and deeply insulting end to Sir David Webster’s legacy. Those responsible for it’s sale should have read his biography about how he created the ROH and without his tenacity and vision it wouldn’t exist…
    The board should be ashamed.

  • I wonder who wanted a picture of David Webster to hang in their bedroom.

  • Banksy says:

    I dunna Hockney in my shed, it has Trump belly up in a pool with a floater!