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Fifty years of Hockney are sold in one night

Bidders scramble for a piece of Britain's 'greatest living artist'

Britain "greatest living artist" pulled in the crowds at an auction of his works yesterday, with not a painting to be seen.

There were lithographs and etchings, photocopies and photographic collages but no paintings. Not that it made any difference to the bidders who crammed into the sale room in the hope of walking away with a work by David Hockney.

There was standing room only at Christie's in South Kensington, and when the hammer came down on the last of 147 lots spanning half a century, almost £1.4 million had been spent.

Technology has had its influence on auction houses just as it has everywhere else, and with the advent of online bidding, fewer and fewer people make the effort to turn up to sales in person. But Hockney has special appeal and while there were plenty of online and telephone bidders, even more squeezed into the sale room to enjoy the atmosphere.

The most expensive image to be sold in the sale yesterday was a crayon and coloured pencil view of Los Angeles, which sold for £121,250.

In some sales the excitement is measured by the frequency and audibility of gasps but in South Kensington yesterday it was the depth of the silence that gave away the interest in a piece. "It goes silent when something starts to fly," said Alexandra Gill, head of prints at South Kensington. "And you could have heard a pin drop for this one."

The appeal, she said, is straightforwardly Hockney: "He's Britain's greatest living artist, a superb draughtsman."

While Los Angeles was the most expensive lot of the day, going for more than £90,000 more than its upper estimate, she rated an unfinished lithograph self-portrait as the "most fabulous" piece in the sale.

It was created in 1954 while Hockney was studying at Bradford Art College and was given to one of his Bradford Grammar School art teachers, Reggie Maddox. It illustrates not just his early brilliance but his wit and self-confidence, she said. For the portrait, Hockney dyed his hair and dressed up to look like the artist Stanley Spencer.

Among other highlights of the sale was Lithograph of Water, created in 1978-80 and one of his trademark swimming pool images. It sold for £43,250.