top of page

David Hockney & Egypt

Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes, David Hockney 1937

Two things I love - Ancient Egypt and David Hockney 💓.

Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes, David Hockney 1937, is a unique, landmark painting that stands as the only remaining canvas (one other was destroyed in a fire in 1967 😢) to commemorate David Hockney’s first trip to Egypt at the age of 26. He was commissioned by the Sunday Times to travel to Egypt in order to create a visual diary of his experience there shortly after he graduation from the Royal College of Art. It marks a watershed in his practice in terms of style, scale and composition.

Egypt is one of the most thrilling countries I've ever been to in the sense that these monuments are the oldest known buildings anywhere. After all, when Cleopatra showed Julius Caesar the pyramids, they were already two thousand years old and more. It is quite awe-inspiring; not even in China are there things older, and I think you feel connected with them, whoever you are” David Hockney.

It is well documented that Hockney had an obsession with Egypt that developed through his encounter with the ancient Egyptian art he encountered at the British Museum and later at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, as well as his deep admiration for the poetry of Greek Alexandrian poet Constantine P. Cavafy. The trip in 1963 was the fulfilment of a long-held dream. Whilst in Egypt, Hockney undertook some forty works on paper, but no canvases. This painting is the only surviving work to have been completed upon his return to Britain, standing as the most important monument to his trip.

“So I went to Egypt for three, four weeks, and I made a lot of drawings there, about forty drawings, I think. I drew everything. I went to Cairo, then Alexandria, and up to Luxor, where I spent about ten days; it was the most interesting.“ David Hockney

The drawings undertaken during Hockney's trip to Egypt were due to be published in the 24th November edition of the Sunday Times, but the assassination of President John F. Kennedy intervened. At the Sunday Times, the magazine and twenty-five pages of the newspaper were already gone to print but the editor, Denis Hamilton decided to pull the whole publication to cover the historic incident. By this time however, Hockney was so excited at the prospect of his forthcoming exhibition, his very first one-man show at the Kasmin Gallery, that he took little time to be disappointed. Instead he focused his efforts upon finishing Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes deciding that the proceeds of his show at Kasmin would finance his long trip to California, the land of his dreams. This is the moment the transformed the work of David Hockney that we all know and love today.

Fun fact Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes painting sold for £3,513,250 at Cristie’s on 13th Feb 2013 - thats 8 years ago today 😉.

David Hockney Egyptian Journeys - a book I one day hope to own! This book includes all of the sketches that he made over his trip and others relating to his interest in Egyptian around that time 🥰.

“I didn't take a camera, only drawing paper, so I drew everywhere and everything, the Pyramids, modern Egypt, it was terrific.” David Hockney.

Later in 1977, Hockney went on a second trip to Egypt this time with some friends from America, where he created a series of set designs for The Magic Flute for a performance at Glyndebourne House in East Sussex, UK. The models for many of David’s opera sets were installed for several years at Salts Mill in the early 2000's, not sure where they are now but I would love to see them.

Well I think we can agree that was all pretty amazing! Happy weekend x


bottom of page