Hockney portrait returns to Covent Garden

The David Hockney portrait of its former general director that was sold last month by the Royal Opera House is going back – courtesy of Covent Garden’s new chairman.

It transpires that the winning bidder for the potato was none other than David Ross, the Carphone Warehouse multi-millionaire appointed to chair the Royal Opera House by 10 Downing Street only this summer.

The portrait, of Sir David Webster, was sold at auction last month for £11m to raise much needed funds to help fill the income gap caused by the Covid-19 lockdown.

“The arts have had an incredibly difficult year, with many institutions having to make extremely tough decisions in order to survive” said Ross. “Before I joined as its new chair the Royal Opera House decided that it would sell this wonderful painting by David Hockney in order to sustain its community of artists and bring the world’s greatest performers back to the stage once again. This was one of the key parts of the Royal Opera House’s four-point strategy to help it navigate the worst crisis in its history.

“As the chairman of the Royal Opera House and the National Portrait Gallery I care deeply about the arts being as accessible as possible and their educational value. So, I decided to participate in the auction to secure the painting for the British public". The painting will be loaned to the NPG for its post-refurbishment opening exhibition in 2023.

Webster was Covent Garden’s general director from 1945 to 1970 who revived the fortunes of the opera house, and particularly of the Royal Ballet. The portrait was commissioned early in Hockney’s career in the year of Webster’s death, 1971.

“This painting celebrates the key role Sir David Webster played in establishing the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera companies. It is fitting that Webster has helped to preserve the organisation he so lovingly built” Ross said. “I hope that the painting will continue to be enjoyed by art lovers and opera goers for many years to come. I am also delighted that the National Portrait Gallery has agreed to include it in its re-opening exhibition in 2023.”


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