The Slatest

David Hockney Painting Sells for $90 Million, the Highest Ever for a Living Artist

A woman contemplates Hockney's painting
An observer studies David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” on Sept. 13 at Christie’s New York.
Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images

A painting by British artist David Hockney sold for an astonishing $90.3 million at a Christie’s auction Thursday, shattering the record for the sale of a piece by a living artist.

The 1972 painting, titled Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures), depicts a man in a pink jacket overlooking a pool in which another man is swimming in his in underwear. Once the painting hit $70 million, the auction became a bidding war between two people that ended with one, an unnamed telephone bidder, winning with a bid of $80 million, bringing the total cost to $90.3 million with fees.

The previous record had been held by Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog sculpture, which was sold for $58.4 million in 2013.

The auction also saw some record sales of paintings by black artists, signaling what the New York Times described as “new inclusivity in the art world.” Hockney’s painting is thought to depict a man Hockney had been in a relationship with, Peter Schlesinger, after the two had broken up. According to the Guardian, some think the swimmer was Schlesinger’s new lover. “The Hockney painting is a different kind of trophy, by an openly gay artist about the emotional life of gay men,” the Times wrote. According to the BBC, the painting, considered one of Hockney’s most famous, combined two types of subjects he was known for: swimming pool paintings and double portraits.

Although Hockney, 81, now holds the price record for any living artist, he will not directly benefit from the sale, as he was not the painting’s owner. (Originally, the painting sold for $18,000 in 1972, through Hockney’s New York art dealer.) The record for an auction of any painting goes to Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, sold for $450.3 million last year.