David Hockney to become world's most expensive living artist

His 1972 canvas “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” could be sold for more than $80m by year-end

“Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” , 1972

David Hockney, the 81-year-old British painter of landscapes and portraits, could become the most expensive living artist at auction, after it emerged that one of his masterpieces could be sold for the very least $80m, smashing the $58.4m paid for Jeff Koons’s Orange Balloon Dog sculpture at Christie's in 2013.

Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” is being offered for sale to numerous auction houses by billionaire Joe Lewis, who’s seeking more than $80m for the art work. According to people with direct knowledge of the matter Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips have been approached, with Christie’s the front-runner.

The 1972 canvas “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)”, which measures 84 inches x 120 inches, depicts two men: One, fully clothed in orange jacket and white pants, stands at the edge of a swimming pool gazing down at another, who is swimming towards him. The hilly landscape behind them was inspired by from photographs taken at Le Nid du Duc in the South of France and the standing man is considered to be Peter Schlesinger - Hockney’s ex-boyfriend and an artist, too. Hockney was working on the painting at the time when their relationship was ending. Recently exhibited in Hockney’s retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was also on loan from Lewis, the work is considered one of his most iconic images. 

Lewis has built a $5.5bn fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The foreign currency trader has parlayed his earnings into an array of assets that include London soccer team Tottenham Hotspur, real estate and art collection that includes masterpieces by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. A current Tate Britain exhibition in London, “All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life," even includes several works from Lewis’s collection.

It is however still questionable whether the painting will find a buyer later this year, since Lewis’s asking price is quite a staggering figure. It is still possible though because Sotheby’s set two auction records for Hockney during the a sale in May. The most expensive, a 1990 landscape “Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica,” fetched $28.5m. Moreover, works by the artist have generated a record $66.6m at auction this year, up more than 80 percent from all his auction sales in 2017.

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