“Celia has a beautiful face, a very rare face with lots of things in it which appeal to me. It shows aspects of her, like her intuitive knowledge and her kindness which I think is the greatest virtue. To me she’s such a special person…Portraits aren’t just made up of drawing, they are made up of other insights as well. Celia is one of the few girls I know really well. I’ve drawn her so many times and knowing her makes it always slightly different. I don’t bother getting the likeness in her face because I know it so well. She has many faces and I think if you looked through all the drawings I’ve done of her, you’d see that they don’t look alike.” 
In October 1973, and after the break-down of his relationship with Peter Schlesinger, Hockney decided to move to Paris, remaining in the city for two years. Initially, Hockney stayed at the Hotel de Nice in the Rue des Beaux-Arts before renting an apartment in the Cour de Rohan from his friend, theatre and film director Tony Richardson, where he converted the large, high-ceilinged living room into a studio.
During his first few weeks in Paris, Hockney produced etchings in the studio of master printer Aldo Crommelynck and experimented with oil paintings (the first few of which were all abandoned), before deciding to refocus his attention on drawing. Hockney recalled, “…I began to enjoy Paris and I started drawing a great deal; that’s when I started drawing very big. Celia came over on a few visits, and I started doing some big drawings of her.” 
In these works, Hockney utilised a more academic drawing style, creating large-scale and wonderfully detailed portraits of several of his close friends who came to visit. Setting his intention with these works Hockney stated, ‘I’ll make some drawings of my friends; I’ll make them slowly, accurately, have them sit down and pose for hours.’’  The present work is one of several large, yet wonderfully intimate portraits of Celia Birtwell, who stayed with the artist in Paris several times during his time there.
Hockney had first met Celia in 1968, through the designer Ossie Clark, Celia’s partner at the time and a friend of Hockney's from their Royal College of Art days. The pair grew close and a year later, in the summer of 1969, Hockney was best man at Celia and Ossie’s wedding. After his move to Paris, Hockney and Celia’s friendship strengthened and she would become one of the few women, aside from his mother, that Hockney knew closely. The closeness of their relationship is reflected poignantly in the ‘Paris drawings’ which all take place in the same domestic interior over the course of two years.
In earlier works dating from 1973, Celia is pictured sitting lost in thought in an armchair, laying back into the same chair in a smock dress, a pink négligée or black slip. Later, in another drawing from 1975, Hockney depicts her reclining on a sofa or bed, half-nude; this work a direct precursor to the present drawing, in which Celia reclines languidly on the same sofa or bed, in the nude, her arm falling over her stomach and her head turned away from the artist’s gaze.
Celia has noted the comfort that both parties found in each other’s company; “We have always felt completely comfortable in each other’s company. We amused each other. I found posing for him to be a very intimate, and silent, affair.” This sense of intimacy, the quiet ease of the act of sitting for a friend is felt acutely in Celia’s pose and is enhanced by the artist’s formal choices and use of material.
Crayon became Hockney’s favored material for making these drawings and its qualities lend an overall softness to the nature of each drawing. In Celia, Nude, 1975, blue is reflected from the material of the sofa onto the surface of Celia’s body and face, counteracting beautifully the fleshy tones of pink and peach which describe her skin. Much of her body, her hair and the material of the sofa behind are described by light, long, repetitive pencil strokes, which create broad areas of tone. Yet, the contours of the body are described through darker, more definite lines, which outline and enhance, providing the opportunity for a greater level of detail. Much of this detail is focused on Celia’s upper body and face; dark pinks describe the twist in her neck and her piercing blue eyes, outlined in black reveal a penetrating gaze, softened by the wisps of golden hair that fall over her forehead. Warm and cold tones play off one another, creating an acute sense of the light which falls across the sitter’s body.
A large proportion of Hockney’s body of work, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, consists of nude portraits. These have taken the form of photographs, paintings, lithographs and drawings in ink, pencil and coloured pencils. In portraying those who move within his personal inner circle, Hockney is able to represent not only the sitter’s physical appearance, but also their character and as such, these works double up as a visual diary of the artist’s private life. The poses of the nudes range from passive, off-guard (which at times appear voyeuristic), to the overtly erotic, and all point towards the youthful sexual curiosity and indulgence of the artist. Of all Hockney’s works in various mediums, the coloured pencil drawings from his Paris-period are arguably the artist’s most sensitive and intimate renderings of the nude.
1 ‘Notes on Sitters’ David Hockney Portraits, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery, London, 2006, p22 2 David Hockney by David Hockney, My Early Years, ed. Nikos Stangos, Thames and Hudson, London, 1976, p285 3 Christopher Simon Sykes, Hockney: The Biography, Volume I, 1937-1975, Century, London, 2011, p326
Celia Birtwell, London (gift of the artist)
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago/New York Private Collection, USA, acquired from the above December 2003
Private Collection, UK
Chicago, Richard Gray Gallery, The Thrill is Spatial, 21 November 2013 - 11 January 2014, illus p7
London, Royal Academy of Arts, David Hockney: A Drawing Retrospective, 9 November 1995 – 28 January 1996, illus, touring to;
Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
New York, Andre Emmerich Gallery, David Hockney, 2 June - 29 July 1988, illus
Los Angeles, Laband Art Gallery, Loyola Marymount University, David Hockney, 30 January - 14 March 1987
Marco Livingstone and Kay Heymer, Hockney's People, Bulfinch Press, New York/London, 2003, Illus p131
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