Will This Painting Make David Hockney the Most Expensive Living Artist When Christie’s Sells It This Fall?

The painting could sell for $80 million.

David Hockney's Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures), 1972, sold for $90.3 million at Christie's in November 2018. Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Christie’s has just unveiled a blockbuster consignment for the fall auction season that may set a new record for a work by a living artist. David Hockney’s painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972) will hit the block at the house’s November evening sale of postwar and contemporary art in New York with an estimate “in the region of $80 million.”

If it hits its target, Hockney will surpass Jeff Koons as the most expensive living artist. Balloon Dog (Orange) (1994-2000) has held the top spot since it sold for $58.4 million at Christie’s New York in 2013.

The Hockney painting is thought to be owned by British billionaire currency trader Joe Lewis, though Christie’s declined to confirm the consignor’s identity, saying only that the present owner acquired the work from David Geffen in 1995. Bloomberg first reported the news that Lewis, was looking to sell the work for $80 million over the summer and had approached Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips.

“The consignment of this work was very competitive and, in the end, the consignor was most confident in Christie’s ability to present a masterpiece of this scale,” Alex Rotter, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art, told artnet News.

Surprisingly, and increasingly uncommon for a work of this caliber, there is no guarantee on the painting. According to artnet’s price database, the work has never come to auction before.

The painting depicts Hockney’s former lover and muse Peter Schlesinger, who he met in 1966. Schlesinger was then a student in one of Hockney’s classes at UCLA and soon become one of the artist’s favorite models. Hockney painted this work while coping with the devastating fallout from the end of their relationship.

The image was selected as the cover for several monographs on the artist and was included in the recent traveling Hockney retrospective at Tate Britain, the Centre Pompidou, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It also appeared in Hockney’s 1974 cult film A Bigger Splash.

There has been a staggering spike in auction revenue for Hockney this year. In the first six months of 2018, his work saw a 225 percent increase—more than any other living artist—even though the total number of Hockney lots went down almost 15 percent from the same period in 2017. The most recent Hockney record, $28.4 million set in May, was for a 1990 landscape that was not even part of one of his most coveted series.

The painting “stands as one of the great masterpieces of the modern era,” Rotter said in a statement. “Hockney’s brilliance as an artist is on full display with this monumental canvas, which encapsulates the essence of the idealized poolside landscape, and the tremendous complexity that exists within human relationships.”

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