THE Royal Opera House is to sell a David Hockney portrait thought to be worth as much as £18m to raise essential funds to protect the future of the historical venue. Times are tough for everyone but its a sorry state of affairs when the Royal Opera House has to sell off art to stay open.
The painting, which was commissioned for the Covent Garden building in the 1970s, is to go up for auction later this month in an unprecedented attempt to protect the venue’s future as a home for the Royal Ballet and for international opera.
“This was a really tough call,” Alex Beard, the ROH’s chief executive, told UK press, “But we have to face the situation we are in and if we can remain viable and get through this, then we can get back to employing people in the future.”
The sale at Christie’s of Hockney’s portrait of the late Sir David Webster will be publicly announced on Monday, October 5. Webster ran the opera house for 25 years from 1945 to 1970, during its greatest period of expansion and ambition. Christie’s expects it to go for between £11m and £18m.
The decision to sell the painting, which has hung at the Royal Opera House in recent years, is part of a four-point plan to keep the venue going during the pandemic. Redundancies are due to be made and a big donation drive is underway. Meanwhile, the internationally renowned opera house hopes to hear soon about a loan from the Treasury’s emergency bailout fund for the arts.
“We are the biggest arts employer in the country and we knew we had to look at any assets we had,” said Beard. “And there is only really one of any note that stands out and that is this portrait.”
Hockney has been informed, said Beard, who worked previously at the Tate. “We have a good relationship, but he does not much like it when any of his work is auctioned.”
Webster worked closely with Dame Ninette de Valois, the founder of the Royal Ballet, to build the international reputation of Covent Garden after the war. “This was the period when we became what we are,” said Beard. “The Royal Ballet has been built up over 70 years to its current status, and we owe it to our extraordinary new generation of dancers to try to protect that. It would take decades to do it again.”
It appears everyone is clearing out the valuables to keep afloat through these increasingly difficult times.