It is a corner of Westminster Abbey that is now forever Yorkshire. Nestling beneath the great Rose Window of the North Transept, sits David Hockney’s eulogy to the quiet beauty of his beloved Wolds.
His starkly modernist, 20ft Queen’s Window, created on an iPad and commissioned to mark the longest reign of a British monarch, has yet to be seen by the woman to whom it is dedicated.
But as its 35 panels were unveiled today, following months of secrecy surrounding their style and content, Hockney ventured that he was “sure” the Queen would like it.
The Abbey said its “palette of popping colours” fitted “surprisingly but beautifully” amongst its existing stained glass windows, which tell the story of Christianity and include the Battle of Britain monument.
Hockney’s abstract hawthorn blossom differs markedly from his paintings of the Yorkshire Wolds, one of which sold for £9.4m at auction two years ago.
He said he had chosen to create it on an iPad because it was “back-lit, like a window”.
At 81, it was the first stained glass piece from the former darling of the pop art movement, and he had considered it “a challenge”. But he added: “I know this is a historic place and I know it’s going to last.”
The Abbey said the work reflected “the Queen as a countrywoman and her widespread delight in, and yearning for, the countryside”.
The Dean of Westminster, Dr John Hall, professed himself “excited” by it. “I think there’s absolutely no harm at all in having something which is particular and vibrant and different,” he said.
Asked what the Queen might think, he cautioned: “You wouldn’t necessarily get very much reaction. She absorbs things. But she’s also I think quite trusting.”
Hockney, born in Bradford and a former resident of the Wolds, said he had been inspired by Matisse, Chagall “and a few other people” for the new work.
His muse was noticed by others. Dr Catriona McAra, curator at Leeds Arts University, said she had been struck by the connection to the small Rosary Chapel at Vence on the French Riviera, which Matisse regarded as his masterpiece.
“The glass reflects that tradition and rethinks it for the 21st century,” Dr McAra said.
“Hockney as a British pop artist is taking that tradition forward, into Westminster Abbey. If you look at the Matisse windows, the forms are similar.”
She added: “It’s important that we have a contemporary take as well as the traditional religious icons, and that we have contemporary voices coming into the mix.”
At Barley Studio in York, where the window was created using traditional techniques, creative director Helen Whittaker said of working with Hockney: “It was incredibly exciting because he takes risks. A lot of people have an idea of what a stained glass window looks like – religious wallpaper that doesn’t engage.”
She said Hockney had chosen traditional materials but the “image is very much the 21st century. It draws you to it, these windows are no longer just in the background”.
Most of the Abbey’s stained glass is from the 19th and 20th centuries, though the North Rose Window dates from 1722.
“Some of the glass here is not very good,” said Dr Hall.
But Hockney’s new work, he said, “has a wonderful, beautiful, easily accessible vibrant colour. I think people will enjoy it.”
He added: “It’s going to be here until the end. I mean, who knows what’s going to happen in the future – the Abbey’s only been here just over 1,000 years. It’ll be thousands more.”
The Queen has seen a sketch of the work and will see the glass in situ in November.