This could be the most expensive painting ever

Our greatest living artist: Hockney was born and raised in Bradford before he moved to Los Angeles.

Can a painting really be worth $80 million? Today, David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) is set to become the most valuable work by a living artist ever sold.

The clear water of the pool seems to shimmer before your eyes, framed by the crisp, rough lines of the tiles. Beyond, you can get lost in the wild, verdant forest and hills that loom like huge waves.

One figure is submerged underwater. He is semi-naked, anonymous and free, while the other looks on, an overdressed, slightly awkward spectator.

Today, David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) may become the most expensive painting by a living artist ever sold at auction.

It is being sold at Christie’s auction house in New York for an estimated $80 million (£62 million), which would break the $58.4 million (£45.2 million) record set by Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog in 2013.

Hockney, who is now 81, moved from the north of England to Los Angeles in 1964. The city’s sunny glamour quickly became a major focus of his work, particularly the private pools that are common in LA.

”I always loved swimming pools, all the wiggly lines they make,” Hockney said last year. “If you photograph them, it freezes them, whereas if you use paint, you can have wiggly lines that wiggle.”

He painted Portrait of an Artist in 1972, as his five-year relationship with his muse Peter Schlesinger was breaking down. The man in the pink jacket is modelled on photographs of Schlesinger.

For many, this background of heartbreak adds to the painting’s mystery. Who is the man in the pool: Hockney, or a new lover of Schlesinger’s? Why is it titled Portrait of an Artist if Hockney might not be there?

Hockney worked 18 hours a day for two weeks to complete the painting, which is the only one to combine his two great themes: pools and double portraits.

His work is not universally admired. The artist Lucian Freud, who died in 2011, was said to be “quite scathing” about his rival’s paintings.

Chris Stephens, who recently curated an exhibition of Hockney’s works at the Tate, said he is not a “terribly highly skilled” painter, although he acknowledged the artist’s ability to turn ordinary things “into something really beautiful.”

Can a painting really be worth that much?

Where to draw the line

Absolutely not, say some. The art market has got out of hand, and bidding on prestigious works has become a competitive sport for billionaires. All it highlights is that too much of the world’s wealth is in the hands of too few individuals. Hockney is a popular painter, but no art can truly be worth $80 million.

Don’t be so sure. In the modern world, where art and words are copied endlessly across the internet, there is immense value in something truly original and one of a kind. The price of great art does not just include the painting, but a vision of the artist — some might say his soul. Hockney is one of the very best. It is no wonder his art is valued so highly.

You Decide

  1. How can you measure how much a piece of art is worth?
  2. Do you like Hockney’s painting?


  1. Try to create your own artwork in Hockney’s style. Research his other works for inspiration.
  2. Looking only at the painting, think about: what do you think the relationship is between the two men? What is the man in pink feeling or thinking? Why is he fully clothed? What does the landscape behind them suggest? Along with anything else you notice, write one page explaining your opinion of what is happening in the painting.

Some People Say...

“The moment you cheat for the sake of beauty, you know you’re an artist.”

David Hockney

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
David Hockney is widely regarded as one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. He played a central role in the pop art movement. His 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) is being auctioned at Christie’s today with an estimated price of $80 million (£62 million), which would make it the most expensive painting by a living artist.
What do we not know?
How you can ever know the true value of art. While other industries have stalled or plummeted, prices in the art market have continued to soar. Some speculate that this is due to a growth in the number of billionaires and the amount of money in private hands, which allows the super-rich to spend more and for more people to buy prestigious art.

Word Watch

Green and rich with vegetation.
Hockney said the painting was inspired by his desire to paint one figure who is distorted by water and another who is clear.
Balloon Dog
Koons made a series of metal sculptures resembling balloon animals. His smaller versions of this sculpture usually sell for a few thousands dollars each.
Private pools
Hockney said he was fascinated with swimming pools because of “the surface of the water, the very thin film, the shimmering two-dimensionality.”
A person who is the source of inspiration for an artist. Hockney took many photographs of Schlesinger which he pieced together to help him create the final painting.
Hockney spent over a year on his first attempt at the painting, before giving up and destroyed it.
Lucian Freud
A British artist considered to be one of the great portraitists of the 20th century.


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