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'The Actor' is one of five paintings which Hockney executed during a period of six weeks teaching at the University of Iowa shortly after his move to the USA. It incorporates a range of motifs which have proved central to his oeuvre, including the stage-like setting with curtains, the vase of flowers, the palm tree on the cushion, the patterned sofa and the calligraphic flourishes in the sky. The figure, doubtless observed during the artist's visit to Egypt in September 1963, is based upon a statue of the heretical pharoah Akhenaton (1370–52 BC). Similar heads appear in Hockney's 'Four Heads (Egyptian)' (1963) and 'Californian Art Collector' (1964). During the pharoah's reign artists achieved an unprecedented freedom of expression, and he has since become widely regarded as a modern figure, born long before his time; the opera Akhnaten was composed by Philip Glass in 1984.
acrylic on canvas
H 166.5 x W 167.3 cm
NMW A 13523
purchased with the assistance of the Derek Williams Trust, the Art Fund and the Honourable James Butler Charitable Trust, 1999