A celebrated painting by British artist David Hockney has been sold at Christie’s in New York for just over $90m (£70m) – an auction record for a work by a living artist. Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) had been forecast to fetch $80m (£62m). It sold following a 10-minute battle between two bidders via telephone, after the price passed $70m (£54m). The sale eclipsed the previous record held by US artist Jeff Koons. His stainless steel Balloon Dog (Orange) sold for $58m (£45m) in 2013. The packed sales room in New York broke into applause when the hammer fell, with the buyer’s premium and commission taking the final price to $90.3m. Christie’s did not name the successful bidder. The Hockney work was painted in 1972 and is one of the Yorkshire artist’s most recognizable works. The composition of the two figures began as two separate photographs on the artist’s studio floor and was completed in time for an exhibition at New York’s André Emmerich Gallery in 1972. Christie’s described it as “one of the great masterpieces of the modern era”. Earlier this year, another of the 81-year-old’s paintings sold for $28.5m (£22.2m) – a personal auction record for the artist.
Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) was previously owned by record executive David Geffen, who sold it to British billionaire Joe Lewis in 1995 for an undisclosed sum. There is good reason for all the fuss over Hockney’s huge canvas Portrait of an Artist. Painted in 1972, it unites the themes and ideas he was exploring in the late 60s and 70s with his famous “swimming pool” pictures and “double portraits”. The two individual series are widely considered to be his best work. So the opportunity to buy a picture that combines both in a single wholly coherent and powerful image by one of the world’s most respected contemporary painters is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. That means the market-driven rules of supply and demand come into play, pushing the price up to the giddy heights of $90 million. Art dealer Stephen Howes said Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) was “truly one of the most iconic paintings of the 20th Century”. The sale, he continued, “galvanizes the piece’s rightful place as a true masterpiece and further cements Hockney’s place in the highest echelons of art history.”