David Hockney has given Tate his largest painting, Bigger Trees near Warter. This is one of the most generous gifts presented by an artist to a UK gallery in recent years.
The Hockney is over 12 metres long and 4.5 metres high, which probably makes it the biggest painting ever done in the open air. Painted in oils, it comprises 50 separate canvases, hung together. The view is of a copse outside Bridlington, in Yorkshire, which is now Hockney’s main home.
Although the picture took only a few weeks to paint, it was a major logistical operation. An assistant took digital photographs of the paintings, recording every stage in their development and enabling the artist to see how the work was progressing.
Bigger Trees near Warter was painted just over a year ago, before the arrival of spring leaves. In June it went on public view, at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, where it took up a whole wall in the largest gallery. The work was widely regarded as the star of the show. The RA presentation also coincided with Tate Britain’s exhibition on “Hockney on Turner Watercolours”, and conversations between the artist and the gallery eventually led to the donation.
Tate has 108 Hockneys, but most are on paper, and there are only eight paintings, including this latest acquisition. The value of Bigger Trees near Warter is not being revealed for the moment (the record price for a Hockney is The Splash of 1966, which sold at Sotheby’s on 21 June 2006 for £2.9m). Its size will make displaying the work complicated, but it is expected to go on show shortly. An official announcement on the acquisition is due in April.