David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)

In November 2018, an auction took place where a portrait by one of the most expensive living artists became the most expensive artwork ever sold for $90.3 million. This portrait was created by an artist from the 20th century and is widely loved and recognized as one of the most cherished works from that era.

I immediately started painting the two figures in different styles that I found very appealing.

After being open for only four weeks, André Emmerich Gallery in New York had planned an exhibition featuring the concept that Hockney decided to revisit in April 1972. However, the initial work, documented as “A Bigger Splash” by Jack Hazan, was ultimately destroyed by the artist after months of reworking and working.

Preparatory photograph for Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), Le Nid-du-Duc, 1972 © David Hockney

Preliminary photo for Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), Le Nid-du-Duc, 1972 © David Hockney.

Armed with his Pentax camera, Hockney travelled to an idyllic poolside villa outside Saint-Tropez, where he staged hundreds of original compositions, following his friend and assistant.

Returning to his London studio, Hockney admitted that he loved working on the picture for two solid weeks. The intensity of working on it was marvellous and thrilling. He recalled that it took him 18 days, working 12 hours a day, to finish the painting. Before the shippers came to transport it to New York, he spent a fortnight working on the composition, taking cues from a selection of Peter Schlesinger’s photographs. Across the studio wall in Kensington, he had a poolside photograph along with a collection of photographs, all while wearing the same pink jacket.

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In London Hockney took photographs of his partner, Peter Schlesinger, in Kensington Gardens, from which he also worked to create the pink-jacketed figure standing at the pool’s edge. Film still from A Bigger Splash, 1974. Photo Jack Hazan  Buzzy Enterprises Ltd

Ltd. Enterprises Buzzy / Hazan Jack: Photo 1974. Splash, Bigger A from the film’s edge pool, the figure in the pink jacket stood, creating the image. Schlesinger, Peter took photographs of his partner Hockney in Kensington Gardens, London.

The house, nestled in the Hollywood Hills, is a modernist mid-century building made of steel and glass, with a fluid and contemporary design. It was known for being a homoerotic photography publication focused on male fitness. The first reason for its fame was the photo ‘The Pictorial Physique and #21 House Study Case,’ taken by Julius Shulman in 2009. According to him, there were two reasons why he came to Los Angeles. One reason was an accidental encounter, and the other was the iconic swimming pool motif inspired by Hockney.

When Hockney arrived in Los Angeles, he was captivated by what he witnessed. ‘As I gazed downwards, I noticed countless azure swimming pools, and it dawned on me that in England, a swimming pool would be considered a luxurious amenity, whereas here they are commonplace.’ Little did he know that he had stumbled upon his ultimate source of inspiration, and the pools of LA would serve as the backdrop for numerous influential artworks throughout the 1960s and ’70s.

Property from a Distinguished Private Collector. David Hockney (b. 1937), Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), painted in 1972. Acrylic on canvas. 84 x 120 in (213.5 x 305 cm). Sold for $90,312,500 on 15 November 2018 at Christie’s in New York

Christie’s in New York sold a canvas on 15 November 2018 for $90,312,500. The canvas, measuring 305 x 213.5 cm (120 x 84 in), was painted with acrylic in 1972. The artwork, titled “Two Figures with a Pool” is a portrait of David Hockney, an esteemed artist, and was part of a private collection.

At first, Hockney was distressed, but when he painted these pools, he found a place where he could freely examine the male form — both in reality and in pictures. Hockney, who was in his mid-twenties and from Yorkshire, focused on the city’s private swimming pools.

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Hockney stated, “The paintings of the pool were about the shimmering, extremely thin film-like surface of the water.” Hockney added that there is no specific visual description and it can be any color. It is a formal problem to describe water and represent it, making it an intriguing formal problem.

Hockney worked 18 hours a day non-stop for two weeks to finish his painting, finally completing it the night before it was due to be shipped to New York. Film still from A Bigger Splash, 1974 (present lot in progress illustrated). Photo Jack Hazan  Buzzy Enterprises Ltd. Artwork © David Hockney

Artwork: © David Hockney. Photograph: Jack Hazan / Buzzy Enterprises Ltd. Film image from A Bigger Splash, 1974 (current lot in progress illustrated). Hockney tirelessly devoted 18 hours per day for a fortnight to finalize his painting, ultimately finishing it the evening prior to its scheduled shipment to New York.

The 1967 work, “Splash Bigger A,” indicates a contrast between the white sprays of paint against the flat blue of a field. In a Pop-like manner, it suggests the movement of water with squiggles of purple, pink, yellow, and white. This use of colors is seen in both Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool from 1966 and Hockney’s earliest works from 1964, depicting water as shifting planes of broken blue lines and tangled splashes of grey and inky blue.

Hockney also experimented with various media, including water, to depict water using the technique of pressing dyed sheets of paper into pulp, as well as lithographs and crayons, watercolours, and acrylics.

Hockney even went so far as to paint the floor of his own LA pool with the same ripple motifs he had become known for

Hockney went as far as painting the floor of his own pool in the 1970s and ’80s. He had become known for using the same apostrophe-shaped blue and pink ripple motifs. The Hollywood denizens at the Hotel Roosevelt in LA provided him with the opportunity to make his own pool the subject of his paintings.

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The exhibition, which visited most Tate’s becoming, attracted almost half a million people and toured the Pompidou Centre in Paris and The York show. In addition to being the subject of Hazan’s film, it has appeared in numerous retrospectives in 2017. It has become one of Hockney’s most recognizable and celebrated images, with the cover of the accompanying catalogue for Britain’s Tate retrospective being an iconic motif of Hockney’s most famous work, Two Figures with a Pool (Artist’s Portrait).

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Alex Rotter, the Chairman of 20th/21st Century Art, asserts that David Hockney’s exceptional talent as an artist is fully showcased through this colossal artwork, which captures the very essence of an idyllic poolside scenery and the immense intricacy inherent in human connections.

On November 15, 2018, when this painting by Hockney was sold at auction, it became the most valuable artwork ever created by a living artist, solidifying his esteemed position within the realm of history’s most revered artists.

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