In 2018 David Hockney went to Normandy to look at the Bayeux Tapestry, which he had not seen for more than 40 years. He liked its great panoramic length and the absence of shadows. But while there he found himself seduced by the scenery of Normandy, its winding lanes and orchards of blossom trees. He decided he would like to paint the arrival of spring there, as he had in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, a decade earlier.
He asked his long-standing assistant, Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima, known as J-P, to look into the possibility of renting a house. He was so delighted with the first one J-P showed him, La Grande Cour, that he exclaimed: ‘Let’s buy it!’ It was a rambling farmhouse, all higgledly-piggledy, with many wooden beams and no straight lines — ‘even the corners have no straight lines!’—set in four acres of fields and orchards. His one fear was that the house might be cold, but J-P assured him that he would make it warm. J-P went out to supervise the restoration work in January 2019 and Hockney moved in three months later.
Almost as soon as he arrived, he started sending a stream of emails and iPad drawings to his friend, the art critic Martin Gayford. He and Gayford had known each other for years and collaborated on a book, A History of Pictures, in 2016, so Gayford was naturally keen to hear about Hockney’s new project, and went out to visit La Grande Cour that summer. Their conversations and email exchanges, with Hockney’s iPad drawings, form the basis of this book.
Hockney explains that he moved to France because he wanted somewhere very quiet, cut off, where he wouldn’t be ‘nattered’ to by visitors as he was in Los Angeles or London.