Hockney sells for $90.3m, smashes living artist record

British legend David Hockney’s ‘Pool with Two Figures’ work originally sold for $20,000 in 1972.

    A swimming pool painting by British legend David Hockney has been sold for $90.3 million, smashing a new auction record for a living artist.

    The painting, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), was snapped up in New York on Thursday after more than nine minutes of bidding, dominated by two rival telephone bidders.

    It beat the previous record held by American artist Jeff Koons and his Balloon Dog (Orange), which sold for $58.4 million at Christie’s in 2013.

    It was standing room only to watch history in the making in the packed sales room at Christie’s, where applause broke out when the epic sale concluded, the painting hammering for $80 million.

    The buyer’s premium and commission took the final price for the canvas, which adorned the wall of the bidding room, to $90,312,500, the auction house announced.

    The $90m price tag was all the more astonishing given the roughly $20,000 that Hockney told CNN his dealer originally sold the painting for in 1972, subsequently believing it had been undervalued.

    Hockney told the network he thought that was “a lot of money at the time, but within six months it was sold again for $50,000.”

    Thursday’s price was more than three times the 81-year-old’s previous auction record – $28.4 million for Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica from 1990 – at Christie’s great rival, Sotheby’s, in May.

    Trophy piece

    Christie’s had estimated the painting pre-sale at $80 million and insisted it was “one of the great masterpieces of the modern era.”

    In the picture, a smartly dressed man, standing on the edge of the pool, looks pensively at another figure swimming towards him in glistening waters, with an idyllic mountain view in the background.

    The observer depicts Hockney’s former lover and muse, Peter Schlesinger, one of his students at the University of California, Los Angeles.

    Their affair ended the year the picture was finished and experts have suggested that the swimmer could be Peter’s new lover.

    Christie’s declined to reveal the identity of the seller or any information about the buyer, insisting they wanted to remain anonymous.

    But Bloomberg and the Artnet website reported that it was put up for sale by British billionaire Joe Lewis, who owns the Tavistock Group, London Premier League football team Tottenham Hotspur, and whom Forbes estimates to be worth $5bn.

    Last November’s season was distinguished by the single most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction – the eye-watering $450.3m paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi at Christie’s.

    A prolific artist who has continued to work well into advanced age, Hockney told Britain’s Channel 4 television in an interview in 2015 that painting was “all I want to do now at my age. That’s all I care about.”

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