Science meets art: Hawking and Hockney united in one culture

A meeting of two great minds provided one of the highlights at the Science Museum this year.

The meeting of two great talents provided the undoubted highlight of the year at London’s Science Museum.

Britain’s most famous scientist, Stephen Hawking, lent his own memorabilia for a birthday display while celebrated artist David Hockney drew his birthday portrait on an iPad, which joined the display as an animated video.

Stephen Hawking: A 70th Birthday Celebration was the first exhibition taken from the cosmologist’s personal archive, and encouraged visitors to reflect on the relationship between his achievements and his immense success in popularising astrophysics.

 Items on display at the Stephen Hawking: A Birthday Celebration exhibition at London's Science Museum

Hawking and his daughter Lucy helped select the objects for display, which included handwritten notes on work with Roger Penrose, an annotated script for his guest appearance on The Simpsons and the blue suit he wore for his zero-gravity flight.

Illness forced him to miss the VIP opening of the new exhibit, but one Saturday afternoon a huge buzz filled the Museum when Hawking arrived from Cambridge University to take a look.

Alison Boyle, Curator of Astronomy, played tour guide while a happy crowd of 200 followed them through the Museum. When everyone sang an affectionate chorus of "Happy Birthday", he beamed in appreciation and typed ‘Thanks’.

Hawking also sat for David Hockney’s digital portrait, created with on an iPad with a fast, versatile app called "Brushes" which Hockney himself helped develop. What went on display was a mesmerising three-minute time-lapse animation, which was mounted alongside the artist’s 1978 ink drawing of Hawking, made years before the Professor’s book A Brief History Of Time thrust celebrity upon him.

David Hockney's portrait of Stephen Hawking, as used on the cover of the Science Museum Group's Annual Review

The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones wrote "Hockney’s portraits of Hawking are important documents of what really mattered in the culture of our time. Like Epstein’s Einstein [on show at the Science Museum], they will still be looked at when much art that makes the headlines is utterly forgotten."