On 24th November 2016, a new auction record was achieved for a work by Patrick Procktor, when Gervase VII (1968), was sold at Christie’s, London, for £40,000, against an estimate of £10,000 – £15,000. I was asked by the vendor to write a catalogue entry for the painting, as reproduced below.
Patrick Procktor met twenty-two-year-old model and aspiring pop star Gervase Griffiths in London in Spring 1968, when both appeared on the catwalk at a show of menswear by the artist’s friend Mr. Fish. They became lovers, and for the rest of that year Procktor painted, drew and photographed the young man constantly. Offered a show in New York that December, he decided that Griffiths would be its sole subject; the present work was amongst the forty-four that were included. The subtle economy of treatment here is informed by Procktor’s work in watercolour, the medium he first took up whilst holidaying with his friend David Hockney in Europe in the summer of 1967, when Hockney, frustrated by his own attempts, presented him with his box of watercolours. [i] Procktor soon realized a natural affinity, going on to achieve great renown as the best watercolourist of his generation. Compared to Hockney’s paintings of similar subjects, Gervase VII appears less obviously stylized and more naturalistic, though it in fact results from a brand of highly considered artifice, in which the figure is subject to distortions and elongations typical of the artist’s portraiture. In a letter to the New York gallery, Procktor wrote that the paintings of Griffiths were ‘icily objective’, a statement that might be seen to run counter to his emotional feelings, but that was central to his artistic sensibility. He also added, in an ironic nod to American minimalism, ‘I conceived the show rather as though, were I another kind of painter, I might have chosen lumps of dirt, or identical neon tubes as a theme. Of course there is a difference – a human subject is both more diverse, and as a whole a romantic entity.’ [ii] The source of Gervase VII is a photograph taken in Morocco in October 1968, in which Griffiths, floating in a hotel swimming pool, is framed so that his figure is cropped, both at eye level and at mid-thigh. The painting therefore, with its interplay between the liquidity of both subject and medium, results in large part from imaginative invention.
A poignant postscript: Gervase Griffiths drowned whilst swimming in the sea on 6th June 1981, four days after his thirty-sixth birthday.
Image: Patrick Procktor Gervase VII, 1968, acrylic on canvas. © The artist’s estate/The Redfern Gallery, London.