Hockney's 'In the Dull village'

Contributed by British Museum

In the dull village, from illustrations for 14 poems from CP Cavafy, 1966/67. Etching. © David Hockney / Editions Alecto

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This etching is from a series created in 1966 by David Hockney to illustrate 14 poems by the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy (1863 - 1933). Cavafy was one of the earliest modern authors to write about same-sex love and proved an inspiration to the young Hockney, who stole a copy of Cavafy's translated poems from Bradford Library in 1960. The etching is not a literal interpretation of the poem's subject matter - homo-erotic fantasies in a sleepy, provincial village - but instead evokes the poem's mood of relaxed intimacy through the use of a crisp and spare line.

How did the Hellenic world inspire Hockney?

Cavafy was born in the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria in Egypt and his poems frequently express same-sex love in the Hellenic world. When Hockney created this print Britain was in the grip of its own sexual revolution - homosexuality was decriminalised by Parliament in 1967. Hockney visited Beirut in Lebanon, which had replaced Alexandria as the region's cosmopolitan capital, to draw inspiration for his series. Many of the illustrations were actually drawn in Hockney's Notting Hill flat, however, using two friends as models.

Homosexual acts in private were decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967

Human rights begin in small places

I think that this is a wonderful image to represent what human rights are all about. As I say it’s a picture of two gay men but it’s not to my eyes desperately erotic or racy or controversial; its two people obviously in some kind of intimate relationship lying next to each other in a relaxed way in bed.

And it reminds me of what Eleanor Roosevelt said about human rights; ‘human rights begin in small places close to home’. This is not big politics, this is not legal judgement and legislation, this is about understanding what it is to be a human being, and respecting it.

I think the image is really important because you can look at it and see a rather sweet, not desperately erotic, but essentially intimate picture of two men lying in bed on a Sunday morning, or something like that, and see it as really quite a sweet image, but I’m sure that there are bigoted people who are still horrified by that idea all over the world, and lest we get too complacent in modern Britain, there are still people who fear deportation from Britain to countries where they might be seriously persecuted, criminalised, imprisoned, or worse. The death penalty, in some cases, just for being themselves – just for perfectly consensual adult feelings and relationships based on love.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of the civil rights organisation Liberty

'I was rather proud of it at the time'

I think it was Lawrence Durrell published in the back of one of his books a poem by Cavafy, and I’d found Cavafy in the Bradford Library. But you had to ask for it. I looked it up in the index, catalogue, it wasn’t on the shelf because they didn’t want too many people reading these poems, or something, but I got it out. And actually, I never took it back – I kept it. …You couldn’t buy this book in England at the time. And of course the poems were wonderful.

I think I did 12 drawings – 12 etchings – some were drawn from life, some were drawn from my drawings; some were drawn from photographs. I was rather proud of it at the time, and I would have thought of it as good propaganda –…I said that and that’s what some of my work was. Yes, it was, and probably helped a little bit – I don’t know.

…I wasn’t speaking for anybody else but I would certainly defend my way of living…. But if I played a little part of it I’m proud – I might have done, I think, made people open their lives a bit. I’d like to think that.

David Hockney, artist

Comments are closed for this object


  • 1. At 16:34 on 11 October 2010, MikeW wrote:

    Look forward to the episode, towards the end of such a great series. Not so sure about the accuracy of the BBC blurb though "Homosexual acts in private were decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967". I'd prefer to say they were "partially decriminalised". Gay men below the age of 21 continue to go to jail for having consensual sex with younger partners (who were over the age of consent for heterosexuals). Plus the definition of "in private" was laughable - a hotel room did not count, neither did a private house if there was someone else in the building. Only a couple of years ago there were thouands of gay men (I think not lesbians) in gaol for activities which would not be illegal if they were straight. Hockney's work becomes even more important in this context

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  • 2. At 16:10 on 16 October 2010, robbyit wrote:

    Agree with almost all comments that disagree with homophobia. However although gay men (and a few of the straight majority) would find this image delightful many of the 90%-plus straight population would not. Why? I believe, and this might surprise the under 40ties, that this flaunting of gay behaviour is almost entirely individual-centred and thus only for the benefit of a small minority. So the choice of this image goes along with the times but does little for the 'dull' majority.

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  • 3. At 10:48 on 19 October 2010, Benny wrote:

    'robbyit' - there's nothing worse than biggotry that hides behind a permissive veil. Do you really believe that people will find this image 'delightful' or not purely based on their sexuality? This is just a nice little etching of two men by one of the greatest British artists of the 20th century. What a shame you (and many like you I'm sure) can't see it for what it is because you're so obsessed with what it represents. Your dodgy statistics and discussion of 'majority/minority' reveals how threatened you feel by a simple image. This programme looks at objects that tell us something about society, and you have brought home the point by telling us something rather ugly about yourself.

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  • 4. At 14:25 on 19 October 2010, Kurt Whelan wrote:

    Why all the fuss? It's just a picture of a couple of blokes having a chat in bed. Could be Morecambe & Wise!

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  • 5. At 19:52 on 19 October 2010, mary3tree wrote:

    They could be two brothers, cousins or friends who shared a bed to avoid the 'single supplement' which encourages single people to share. The pity is that in the current climate we are forced to suppose that the only reason people go to bed is to have sex. Whatever happened to a good nights sleep?

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  • 6. At 12:44 on 20 October 2010, Mark wrote:

    I was born in 1966, when this was drawn, and I first saw it in the early 1980's, at the Stoke-on-Trent city art gallery and museum, as part of an exhibition of Hockney's work. I had never heard of him before, and I wandered into the exhibition purely out of curiosity. The exhibition contained a number of works, but this, with some others, was behind a screen that noted 'explicit sexual images'. I recall being both excited and moved by the images, which include the swimming pool paintings. I knew what I was, but I hadn't told anyone else, and was still wrestling with myself about how I would live my future life; at that time, by being normal and secretly escaping when I could to experience what I truly desired but was then too frightened to be open about. Those images showed me that what I wanted, the love of another man, was possible, was beautiful, and wasn't abnormal. Seeing them was the beginning of my journey to being honest with myself, a liberating and wonderful moment. I may disagree with Hockney about smoking, but I will forever be grateful to him for helping me to be, and to the curator at the gallery. And now I'm grateful to this series for giving me a reminder of how I became me, and including the progress that those like me have made in being more fully part of the world. The struggle for others unfortunately continues, but the choice of Hockney's piece, for me, is in very much in keeping with the theme of the series.

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  • 7. At 16:47 on 23 October 2010, Brent Pigeon wrote:

    I read Mark's comments. What an fine way to discover yourself.

    Here's to you Mark!

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  • 8. At 16:18 on 7 November 2010, Paul R Syms wrote:

    I'm not sure that this object qualifies for the top 100 in the way that most of the other objects do. Not least, when adding my object, the site advised against choosing drawings or paintings! The twentieth century was an age of mass-production, and this (at least, the original) is a one-off object. In order to explore the themes of overt sexuality, homosexuality, AIDS, and even (in the heterosexual context) man's control over his own fertility, would not a humble condom have served better? Plain or ribbed, it doesn't matter.

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  • 9. At 18:06 on 29 June 2011, Charles Boot wrote:

    Paul just to pick up on that, though a good suggestion by you too.
    David Hockney was commissioned to make a series of etchings. So, as such, it is a 'mass produced' object, all be it only in a quantity of (I think) 670 (made up of that number of sets of the twelve plates within 5 editions, plus a number of sets of 'artists proofs').
    I was delighted to find that I might be able to acquire at least one of the objects in this series and recently purchased this one. There are other copies available, just search the web.

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