A Dip Into Hockney’s Emotional Pool Self-Portrait Created After His Breakup

David Hockney’s masterpiece Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) will go under the hammer next month with an estimate of US$80m, which is poised to break the auction record for the most valuable work of art by a living artist. We have invited Koji Inoue, International Director, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s, to tell us the moving story behind the painting. Let’s us take a dip into this pool portrait of Hockney and Peter Schlesinger, one of the great loves of the artist's life.

Koji Inoue, International Director, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s

David Hockney

A Bigger Splash (1974)

Q: Can you tell us about this painting?

Inoue: This is David Hockney. The painting behind us is a ‘Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)’ from 1972, one of the masterpieces of the artist’s output. It was the cover of the catalogue for the Tate retrospective. It was travelled to the Centre Pompidou in Paris and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Inoue: It was the subject matter of a great movie that was created, A Bigger Splash. It’s probably the most iconic, broadly exhibited and reproduced painting by the artist.

A Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) |The figure underneath the water is David Hockney and the one standing next to the pool is Peter Schlesinger

It was created after Hockney’s breakup with Peter Schlesinger

Q: What’s so special about this painting?

Inoue: David Hockney is an artist that was born in England but moved to California in the Western world. He is seen as one of the most talented and prolific artists of the 21st Century. He has an incredible eye to photography, printmaking, painting. And you can see how he combined all those styles in this painting.

Inoue: What makes this painting particularly special: the pool is the most desirable in the connoisseurs of David Hockney; The landscape; here you have two figures. And this two-figure style is only made in eight paintings. You have the artist here. And Peter Schlesinger, who was one of the great loves of his life.

Peter Schlesinger

Q: In what background did the artist create this painting?

Inoue: It was created in the aftermath of their breakup in 1971. If you look at the way the water is rendered, you can see how simple the brushstrokes are. Yet, it has that effect, ephemeral effect of movement in the water. That’s taken from his way of seeing in photography, looking at old masters.

Inoue: You see the disconnect between the two. The subject Peter here has his eyes closed as he’s looking down. The artist is underneath the water. His motion was beneath the surface, where you cannot breathe, you cannot hear, you cannot see. And yet there’s a tension between the two figures. A deeply emotional painting created after their breakup in 1971.

Hockney’s painting of two figures|Art Institute of Chicago

Hockney’s painting of two figures

Hockney’s painting of two figures

Hockney’s painting of two figures|Tate, London

Q: Any similar examples in private hands or museums?

Inoue: This painting is from a series of eight large format double portrait paintings. This one is particularly unique. It’s a portrait of the artist. Most are in the museum collections. It’s an extremely rare object. One that we thought would just go into a museum collection that comes to the auction market.

Preparatory photograph for Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)

Film still, David Hockney and Peter Schlesinger in A Bigger Splash (1974)

David Hockney. Study for Portrait of an Artist (Pool with two Figures). 1972.

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

Q: Why so many people love Hockney’s work?

Inoue: When you have a painting like this in your home. You want to make sure it’s visually lasting. You wake up every morning to this painting. You see new layers, you see new elements, not only base on the colours, the composition, it’s the universe that he created here.

Inoue: It’s interesting that the composition built of two separate photographs. Initially, there is just a man swimming underneath the water and there was a boy looking over a distance. Hockney gravitated to these two images from his archive and looked for ways that combine these two images. That’s the beauty of painting, being able to combine the imagination.

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

Lot no.: 9C
Size: 213.5 x 305cm

  • André Emmerich Gallery, New York
  • Mr. and Mrs. James Astor, London
  • William Beadleston, Inc., New York
  • Stephen Mazoh & Co, New York
  • David Gefen, Los Angeles, 1983
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1995

Estimate: US$80,000,000

Auction details

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Post-war and Contemporary Art
Lots offered: 51
4 November 2018|1pm - 5pm
5-14 November 2018|10am - 5pm
15 November 2018|10am - 12pm
Auction date: 2018/11/15|7pm