David Hockney has unveiled new portraits of some of his oldest and closest friends ahead of the opening of a major new exhibition of his work.

The ink drawings, shown for the first time, depict three of the artist’s longtime subjects – textile designer Celia Birtwell, curator Gregory Evans, and master printer Maurice Payne.

They will be part of David Hockney: Drawing from Life, which will open at the National Portrait Gallery in London on February 27 and which explores Hockney’s technical skills as a draughtsman from the 1950s to the present day.

David Hockney: Drawing from Life
Celia Birtwell, 29 and 30 Aug 2019” by David Hockney (David Hockney/NPG)

It will focus on his depictions of himself and a small group of his closest sitters, and he invited his friends to sit for him once more for a new series of drawings – 10 of which are on display in the exhibition.

The new three-quarter length portraits are informed by all the sittings they have done previously.

In the works, Hockney, 82, uses the walnut-brown coloured ink favoured by Rembrandt.

David Hockney: Drawing from Life
Gregory Evans I, 27th June 2019 (David Hockney/NPG)

Birtwell is one of Hockney’s best-known muses and is most famously seen in Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, with her then-husband Ossie Clark.

She said: “David recently moved to France, and wanted to show me his new house and studio.

“We went over to see him in September, when he drew me several times. We were so impressed that we returned in November.

David Hockney: Drawing from Life
Maurice Payne, 16th Dec 2019 (David Hockney/NPG)

“In my opinion he’s the best draughtsman we have working now. It’s a great honour to be drawn by him.”

Evans, who is Hockney’s longtime friend and one-time romantic partner, sat for the artist in Los Angeles in June 2019, while the new portraits of Payne, his friend since the late 1960s, were drawn in December.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said: “We are delighted to display David Hockney’s new drawings of his close friends for the first time.

David Hockney: Drawing from Life
Hockney (second right) alongside (left to right) Maurice Payne, Celia Birtwell and Gregory Evans (David Parry/National Portrait Gallery)

“By focusing on Hockney as a supreme draughtsman, first and foremost, and his intimate and revealing depictions of those closest to him, our major new exhibition David Hockney: Drawing from Life allows us to chart the effect of the passing of time – on his sitters and his relationship with them, and on the development of his style over the last six decades.”

The exhibition will also feature My Parents And Myself, a portrait Hockney created of himself with his mother and father in 1975 but which he subsequently abandoned.

His rejection of the work reportedly irritated his parents but it will go on display for the first time at the National Portrait Gallery.

David Hockney: Drawing From Life opens at the National Portrait Gallery on February 27 and runs until June 28.