Auction record for a living artist as David Hockney swimming pool scene makes $80m at Christie’s

David Hockney’s ‘Portrait of an ‘Artist (Pool with Two Figures)’ from 1972 became the most expensive work by a living artist when it was knocked down for $80m (£61.6m) at Christie’s in New York last night.


Offered at Christie’s post-war and contemporary art sale with an estimate in the region of $80m, the large-scale painting from 1972 depicts the artist’s then-lover Peter Schlesinger overlooking a swimming pool. It was knocked down to a bidder on the phone.

‘Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)’ by David Hockney which set a record for a living artist when it sold for $80m (£61.5m) at Christie’s New York.

The 7ft x 10ft (2.14 x 3.05m) acrylic on canvas was described by the auctioneers as “an immediately recognisable and iconic image in Hockney’s diverse oeuvre”. It was used on the front-cover of the catalogue for the dedicated Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain last year.

The price surpassed the previous record for a living artist – the $58.4m (including buyer’s premium) for a Jeff Koons balloon dog sold at Christie’s New York in November 2013. The price for the Hockney including buyer’s premium was $90.3m.

The vendor is reported to be the British businessman Joe Lewis who, as well as being an art collector, also owns Tottenham Hotspur Football Club which is currently building an expensive new stadium at White Hart Lane.

The vendor acquired the painting from the Los Angeles collector David Geffen in 1995 according to the Christie’s catalogue, but the auctioneers would not disclose any information about the new owner following the auction.

Hopper record

Chop Suey’ by Edward Hopper, an oil on canvas painted in 1929, which sold for $85m (£65.4m) at Christie’s sale of the Barney A. Ebsworth collection.

This was not the only blockbuster price of the week at Christie’s.

The evening before (November 13) Christie’s offered a 42-lot auction of works from the collection of the late luxury travel magnate Barney A. Ebsworth, with further lots from the consignment sold the following day.

The collection comprised top-end pieces of 20th century American art and the highlight was a painting billed as the most important work by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) remaining in private hands. Chop Suey from 1929 was estimated at $70m-100m and was knocked down to a phone bidder at $85m (£65.4m), setting a major record for the artist.

The previous record for Hopper according to Art Sales Index was the $40.5m (including premium) for East Wind Over Weehawken from 1934 that sold at Christie’s New York in December 2013.

The Ebsworth evening sale generated a premium-inclusive total of $317.8m (£244.6m) with 37 of the 44 lots sold (88%).

Ebsworth himself became interested in art when stationed with the US Army in France in 1956, making weekly trips to the Louvre. He later made his fortune in cruise lines, founding the Intrav luxury travel business and becoming an early investor in the stuffed-animal phenomenon Build-A-Bear Workshop.


One notable aspect of the Ebsworth sale was Christie’s using the two-part auction to pilot a blockchain initiative. In a collaboration with digital registry Artory, the transactions from the sale were registered in encrypted form on a blockchain, providing buyers with a permanent digital record of relevant information about the artwork.

In practice, each buyer receives a registration card to access the encrypted record about their purchase.

Blockchain is an online public ledger of data and Christie’s said this sale “marks the first time an art auction at this price level has been recorded on a blockchain”.

Exchange rate: £1 = $1.3


Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Alex Capon