David Hockney's pool painting auction could smash art world record – catch it in Hong Kong before sale

Christie’s expects British artist’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) to sell for US$80 million – which would be a record amount for a living artist

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 1:55pm

A swimming pool painting by David Hockney could become the most valuable work of art by a living artist sold at auction.

Christie’s in New York announced on Thursday that it was selling Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) with an estimate in the region of US$80m. The painting, a star of Hockney’s recent retrospective, is reportedly owned by Joe Lewis, the Bahamas-based billionaire and owner of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

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Anywhere near the estimate, which is nearly three times the price of the most expensive Hockney sold at auction, would break the record. Jeff Koons holds the title after his stainless steel Balloon Dog (Orange) sold for US$58m in 2013. Next is Gerhard Richter, the most expensive European artist, after Abstraktes Bild (1988) sold in London in 2015 for £30.4m ($46m).

Before its sale in New York in November, the work will be exhibited in Hong Kong on September 28-29, London on October 3-5, and Los Angeles on October 23-27.

The most expensive Hockney auctioned is Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica which sold at Sotheby’s New York this year for US$28.5m.

Alex Rotter, co-chairman of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, called the Hockney painting “one of the great masterpieces of the modern era”.

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The 1972 work, set against a gorgeous, green, hilly landscape, shows a man swimming underwater in the pool watched by another man, Hockney’s ex-boyfriend Peter Schlesinger.

Rotter says: “Hockney’s brilliance as an artist is on full display with this monumental canvas, which encapsulates the essence of the idealised poolside landscape, and the tremendous complexity that exists within human relationships.

“With this painting, Hockney cemented his placement within the realm of history’s most venerated artists, and come November, it is poised to become the most valuable work of art by a living artist ever sold at auction.”

Its reported owner, 81-year-old Lewis, is a passionate collector of art, owning works by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse and Lucian Freud.

The large painting, 3m wide, was an unquestionable stand out at Tate Britain’s Hockney retrospective last year and was then displayed the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.