Three Kings and a Queen, a David Hockney etching and aquatint from 1961, estimate $10,000-12,000 at Ahlers & Ogletree.

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Three Kings and a Queen from 1961 is guided at $10,000-12,000.

Inspired by illustrations from a book on the history of card games, the 9in x 2ft 1in (23 x 63.5cm) etching and aquatint was one of a series of works Hockney began in the autumn of 1960.

The image is a visual pun and an appropriation of the slang term for homosexual: while all of the figures are male, the absence of the letter ‘K’ denotes one of the four as a ‘queen’.

The story goes that Alistair Grant, head of printmaking at the Royal College of Art, found an early impression in the drying racks of the print room. He entered it, without informing Hockney, into The Graven Image, an exhibition promoting the revival of the art of etching held by Robert Erskine at St George’s Gallery, London.

Hockney had been delighted to win a prize of £100 which funded his first trip to New York in the summer of 1961. He moved to California in 1964 and the rest is history.

It is thought that it was later printed by Ron Fuller and Peter Matthews at the Royal College of Art in an edition of around 50. This copy, signed in pencil and dated to lower right, titled and numbered to lower left, comes for sale from an Atlanta collection.

Spring arrives

Meanwhile in London, Phillips’ annual auction of David Hockney prints on September 21 generated £1.7m including fees with all 58 lots selling. It was led by The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven), one of a series of 61 iPad drawings printed on wove paper.

This example was from an edition of 25 which were signed, dated and numbered in pencil. Against a £80,000-120,000 estimate, it was knocked down at £180,000, an auction record for the edition.