Celia Reading is a signed lithograph in sepia by David Hockney which was released in an edition of 30 in 1979. The work depicts Celia Birtwell who became the icon of Hockney’s portraits in the 1980s, featuring in over thirty of his prints. Exploring the intimacy of the domestic scene, the work portrays the woman as she is hunched over the desk, immersed in the act of reading.
In this work, Hockney’s focus on the physical likeness goes hand in hand with the reduction of details that might have surrounded the sitter. While the artist’s watercolour portraits are associated with a detailed, naturalistic rendition of the domestic settings, Celia Reading departs from this tendency. In order to expose the intimacy of a presumably introspective moment, Hockney mutes the background and represents only basic objects in the woman’s vicinity.
In contrast to such works as Domestic Scene, Los Angeles (1963) or Mr And Mrs Clark And Percy (1970-1) giving as much attention to the setting as to the people depicted in it, Celia Reading does not represent the sitter in a vividly defined spatial context. Conveyed in a sparing line, the book, desk, and vase are the only elements hinting at the domestic environment, in which the reading takes place.
Through such a pared-down representation, Hockney orients the viewer’s attention primarily towards the inner world of the sitter. The print not only encapsulates Hockney’s highly personalised approach to portraiture but also enters into dialogue with the works of Matisse and Degas whose depictions of women in domestic spaces expose the intimate moments of sinking in thought.