Art on Sunday looks through David Hockney’s eye

REPORT – After the big Hockney exhibition in the Van Gogh Museum (2019) there is now Hockney’s Eye in Haarlem. For Kunst op Zondag, I visited Teyler’s Museum, a natural science and art history laboratory. British artist David Hockney has long been fascinated by technical inventions and their use by artists. In Teyler’s Museum you can see various scientific objects in dialogue with famous painters and their work. Take a look at the world through Hockney’s Eye.

Hockney’s Eye atmospheric images © photo Wilma Lankhorst.

Hockney’s tweed jacket

In the window of the museum I see a chair with the checkered tweed jacket that Hockney wears in his latest self-portrait (2022) with a brush and a cigarette. The English artist David Hockney (1937) is one of the most famous artists of the time. In the exhibition Hockney‘s eye his works can be seen in direct dialogue with drawings, paintings and scientific objects. Get to know Hockney’s theories about perspective and the use of optical aids. I need to find out how Hockney experiments with this. In the exhibition, you see the works of old masters through his eyes.

David Hockney Hockney's Eye, the artist explains perspective (still) © photo Wilma_Lankhorst

David Hockney explains perspective (still) © photo Wilma Lankhorst.

The world on a flat surface

Throughout his career, David Hockney has researched how old masters translate spatial reality onto the flat surface. It has long been believed that the old masters, before the invention of photography, only looked at reality with their eyes. Hockney disputes that. According to him, the painters did not work exclusively from direct observation (the artist calls this ‘moment’) or by using line perspective. According to him, they had been using optical aids like lenses and mirrors for centuries. Teylers Museum’s collection contains numerous historical scientific objects, such as Leidsche Fles, mirrors, telescopes, cameras and microscopes. In 2001, Hockney published his findings in the book Secret knowledge in which he defends his thesis that early sixteenth-century artists made extensive use of optical aids but was categorically silent about this.

David_Hockney_Ovalt room in Teylers Museum © photo Wilma_Lankhorst

Oval room in Teylers Museum with convex mirror photo Wilma Lankhorst.

Are Hockney’s statements correct?

In the exhibition Hockney‘s eye the content of this book is central. His work and statements can be seen alongside the work of Claude Lorrain and Pieter Saenredam, among others. You see the historical canvas with the optical instruments that they could have used according to Hockney. The instruments also have simple drawings on which you can see how the specific instrument works. In this way, you see art history through the eyes of the artist in Teyler’s historical context as a natural science and art history laboratory. Hockney continues to explore and play with perspective. You can see here how he always finds new and dynamic ways to represent the visual world. Sometimes by reversing the perspective, sometimes by using unconventional tools such as the camera lucida.

“Mirrors are powerful because they make images”

David Hockney

David Hockney Hockney's Eye, another kind of perspective © photo Wilma_Lankhorst

In Hockney’s Eye you will discover different forms of perspective © photo Wilma Lankhorst.

How is the exhibition set up?

The exhibition can be found in a separate room where eight (perspective) themes are addressed: mirrors & lenses (1); camera obscura (2); graphic telescope (3); line perspective (4); camera lucida (5); eyeball (6); reverse perspective (7) and changing perspectives (8). Finally, the museum team asks: ‘What do you see?’ Because despite the certainty with which Hockney narrates his findings, they are controversial. His statements are based on his personal observations and tremors, documentary evidence is scarce. In this room, in addition to the paintings, you will discover reconstructions of historical artistic tools such as the perspective window, the convex mirror, the camera lucida and the camera obscura. Blue signs show drawings showing how the technical aid works.

David Hockney Hockney's Eye, winter landscapes © photo Wilma_Lankhorst

Two winter landscapes, above video David Hockney – below Louis Apol © photo Wilma Lankhorst.

To discover the museum

After the exhibition space, we enter the museum and discover artistic (video) works by Hockney in different rooms. His drawings, paintings, photographic and digital works are integrated into the museum’s historic painting spaces, such as in the scientific rooms and in Pieter Teylers House. In this house, in the small room adjoining the courtyard, we saw the way a camera obscura works. The film runs in a small room ‘A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China’ (1988) by Philip Haas and David Hockney. Discover the convex mirror in the oval room, which refers to the painting in this room by Wybrand Hendriks (1744-1831) The original painting (1802-20) by Hendriks is on display in the exhibition. Sharpen your eyes and discover as you go Hockney’s EYE.

David Hockney Hockney's Eye, team members British Portrait Gallery London © photo Wilma_Lankhorst

Staff British Portrait Gallery London taken with camera lucida ©David Hockney © photo Wilma Lankhorst.

Hockney‘s Eye – Art, technology and imagination can be discovered until 29 January 2023 at Teylers Museum in Haarlem. This exhibition can be visited free of charge with the Museumskortet. Everyone is encouraged to order tickets online in advance. You can do that via this link.

Dear readers, thank you for all the nice comments this year. For now, happy holidays and all the best for a loving and peaceful 2023. To be continued in January 2023 😉

Viewers Looking at a Prefab with Skull and Mirrors (2018) photographic drawing © David Hockney & Jonathan Wilkinson © photo Wilma_Lankhorst

Viewers looking at a completed photographic drawing of a skull and mirrors (2018) © David Hockney & Jonathan Wilkinson. Do you see Ed Sheeran? © photo Wilma Lankhorst.

Also on display: Pieter Teyler’s House

A visit to Pieter Teyler’s House is included in the museum ticket. After an intensive renovation (2013-2021), Pieter Teylers House is now open to everyone. This house is the newest wing of the Teylers Museum. Pieter Teylers House is the founder’s former home Pieter Teyler (1702-1778) and it is closely linked to the history of the oldest museum in our country. During the renovation of this national monument, as many elements as possible were restored to their original state. Some rooms in the stately building are among the best-preserved historic interiors in the Netherlands from the 18th century.

Experience the rich history

Pieter Teyler left his assets and his house to a foundation that aimed to improve life for all. This resulted in, among other things, Teyler’s Museum. The oldest museum in our country opened in 1784 and in those days consisted only of the well-known oval room. Visitors entered Oval Hall via a long marble corridor in Teyler’s former home. Here they explored the latest scientific inventions and the art of the time. Famous guests who have visited Teyler’s Museum include Einstein, Emperor Napoleon and Tsar Alexander.

Now also exhibited in Haarlem

New arrivals, Flemish artists in Haarlem, until January 8, 2023 in the Frans Hals Museum.

© photos, text and video Wilma Lankhorst
© use of the images with permission from and with the permission of Teylers Museum, Frans Hals Museum, the mentioned artists and all lenders.

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