'HE ENQUIRED AFTER THE QUALITY' FROM ILLUSTRATIONS FOR FOURTEEN POEMS FROM C.P. CAVAFY 1966-67 1966
David Hockney (1937 – )
- 395 x 570 mm
- ETCHING AND AQUATINT
- Accession number
Hockney had already used the poetry of Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933)¹ as inspiration for the print Kaisarion and all his beauty. He travelled to Egypt in 1963 visiting Cairo, Luxor and Cavafy’s home city of Alexandria. It was almost another three years before he began work on the series of illustrations to accompany some of Cavafy’s verse. Hockney visited Beirut in January 1966 to soak up the atmosphere of the city he felt would be more like the cosmopolitan Alexandria of Cavafy’s day, which had all but disappeared in the mid 1960s. He selected 14 poems in a new translation by Nikos Stangos and Stephen Spender and began work on the plates in early 1966. He concentrated more on pure line than in his earlier etchings and drew some 20 line illustrations directly onto copper plates. 13 were finally published by Editions Alecto in 1967 both as a limited edition book and six loose leaf portfolio editions. Plate 13 Portrait of Cavafy II, based on drawings made in Beirut, was only available with certain editions. Only four of the illustrations are actually set against a Middle Eastern backdrop, for in order to capture the mood and inherent sensuality of the poetry, Hockney decided to use all his own experiences and, for the most part, the illustrations are based on intimate drawings of his friends in London. The most literal interpretation of Cavafy’s verse is found in plate 3, He enquired after the quality.
He enquired after the quality of the handkerchiefs
and what they cost, in a low voice
almost stifled by desire.
And the answers that came followed suit
They kept on, murmuring things about the goods – but
their sole intent: to touch each other’s hands
across the handkerchiefs; to bring their faces
and their lips close together, as if by chance:
a momentary contact with their limbs.
Quickly and stealthily so that the owner of the shop
Sitting at the far end should not notice.
¹ the pseudonym of Konstantinos Pétron Kaváfis