The most beautiful boy in the world       

Julian Usborne, Art buyer for Balliol College, Oxford, 1962


 & Hockney

In 1962 I was elected to the committee of the Balliol College Junior Common Room. The only reason I had sought election was to take on the role of Art Buyer. The annual budget was 200, quite a lot in those days. I took on the post very much in the shadow of the previous buyer, Alexander Patrick Greysteil Hore-Ruthven, 3rd Earl of Gowrie, later to become Conservative Arts minister under Margaret Thatcher and Chairman of the Arts Council. With extraordinary forsight he bought several paintings by David Hockney at the student show at the Royal College of Art in 1961. One of them, illustrated on the right he bought for Balliol.  >>>>>
It was called "The most beautiful boy in the world".
It is six feet high and cost 75. It was said to have been painted as a Valentine to the young singer, Cliff Richard on whom he had a crush. The picture was delivered some months after Gowrie had left the college. As the new buyer I had the unenviable job of hanging it in the common room and taking the flack. Homosexual Art was too much for the conservative taste in art then prevalent in the college. A meeting was organised by the many outraged students hoping to get rid of a horrible image by an unknown artist.
I discovered by chance that Hockney was passing through Oxford on the same day as the proposed meeting. I therefore contacted him and asked him to say


a few words about his art to the students. He arrived in a gold lame suit. In his strong Bradford accent he told the assembled meeting that, as he had been paid for the picture, he had no objection if the college burned it. To my surprise the college, non-plused by Hockney's frankness voted on this occasion to keep the picture. However, two years later, another meeting was called after I had gone and this time the vote went the other way and the painting was sold for 200.

(Post script: Perhaps Hockney painted two versions. I have no memory of the Alka Selza packet and I am sure the words "the most beautiful boy in the world" were written round the bum rather in the manner of "two boys together clinging")
It is now in a private collection in U.S.A. Value $1 million
Lis Keddell writes:

I am not at all a fan of Hockney's work. In the 60s friend's of ours knew him well when he was at the Royal College and I loved his drawings and water colours from that time. I don't think he can paint for toffee now. I even went to a party in his flat and another friend of his drove him around Norfolk selling his drawings.
My father bought one for 10 when they came to Booton (they were all about that price) and sold it some years later & bought a sailing boat from the proceeds! The same friend drove Hockney & my father to Norwich in his sports car & Hockney was sick down my dad's neck. He seemed like a nice guy and very alive in those days; but now that he has become a 'grand old man' I find him pretty boring.