David Hockney: A Year in Normandy

Boundless Light

February 2, 2022By Heidi EllisonExhibitions
Two details from the frieze David Hockney "A Year in Normandy" (2020-21). Top: spring. Bottom: winter.
Two details from the frieze “A Year in Normandy” (2020-21). Top: spring. Bottom: winter.

David Hockney seems omnipresent in Paris lately, but that can only be a good thing — not only do his cheerful, colorful paintings brighten our Covid-darkened days, but it is also heartening to see an artist of his age (he will be 85 this year) who is so prolific and serious about his work, and who seems to execute it with such great joy. 

Hockney sat out the pandemic in a former farmhouse in Normandy, where he obsessively painted the changing light and seasons in his immediate surroundings. We have already written about some of these works when they were shown at the Galerie Lelong in Paris a year ago, but now another exhibition of different works is on show at the Musée de l’Orangerie, where a 90-meter-long frieze of images consisting of the artist’s iPad paintings blown up and printed on paper are shown in the space next to the oval rooms where Monet’s water lily paintings are on permanent show. 

Exhibition view of "David Hockney: A Year in Normandy."
Exhibition view of “David Hockney: A Year in Normandy.”

What’s new here are the marvelous sunburst paintings that open the show with a bang. Dated April 2020, when France was still in lockdown, the series is titled “Remember You Cannot Look at the Sun or Death for Very Long,” citing La Rochefoucauld’s Maxim 26. In the first painting, we see the glow of the sun behind distant hills before it rises, then watch it get larger and larger in each work until it explodes, filling the final canvas with its retina-scorching rays.

Part of the frieze "A Year in Normandy" (2020-21).
Part of the frieze “A Year in Normandy” (2020-21).

A poetic stroll along the frieze takes you through the seasons almost as if you were there, from the bare-branched trees of early spring, when the fields are just beginning to show a haze of green, to blossoms on the fruit trees and, later, the sprouting of their leaves as the green grass becomes increasingly brilliant, and yellow and white wildflowers begin to pop up in the fields. A shower suddenly arrives, intensifying the greens even more. Then spring morphs into the lush burgeoning of summer, occasionally shadowed by heavy clouds. The powerful colors of summer gradually transform into the reds and ochres of autumn as the trees slowly return to their leafless state, only to be glazed with snow in the last image. 

David Hockney in Normandy, April 1, 2021. © David Hockney. Photo: Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima
David Hockney in Normandy, April 1, 2021. © David Hockney. Photo: Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima

Once again, Hockney has come along to brighten a gray Paris winter with his work. You have only two weeks left to see the show, which runs through Valentine’s Day. Do try to get there to see these paintings, which perfectly embody the poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s description of painting as “a remarkable art whose light is boundless.”


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