The hammer comes down at an auction and $90+ million US dollars is the winning bid to an anonymous buyer. Yes, that’s a LOT of cash to spend on a painting but this is no ordinary painting and it depicts a very personal and very real gay story that not many know.   

The artist is none other than David Hockney who is now a little more than 80 years old. One of the most popular and influential gay British artists and a founder of the British Pop Art movement. Today, Hockney’s artworks are considered icons of pop art. Another price driving factor might have been that this painting was the main piece of a major retrospective that was shown at the Tate Modern in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Metropolitan in New York.

Here the artist reflects on his memories of a longterm relationship that is about to come to a close.

You probably know of his work from the sunny poolside paintings with naked boys splashing around that he did while at his second home in in Los Angeles. He began to paint the pools with his cool minimalism, documenting the latest chapter in his new life in California. These pictures tell a vague homoerotic story about hedonism,  prosperity and sexual freedom.

It was this one pictured here, “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)”, done in 1972, which recently sold for $90 plus million, the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by a living artist.

Hockney is most famous for his California pool paintings but this poolside location is not in California but in the south of France where the artist vacationed with his longtime lover Peter Schlesinger. The standing figure here is Peter who was only 18 years old when he first met Hockney when he was teaching a summer class at his university. During their long term relationship Peter was often the artist’s subject and muse as he appears in many of the artist’s best-known works.

Here the artist reflects on his memories of a longterm relationship that is about to come to a close. Based on photographs from their vacations at a friend’s villa in the south of France, this represents their freedoms and the good life they had together. At the same time there is also an ominous tension, as the figures seem mysteriously withdrawn. The assumption here is that this painting announces the separation of the couple Hockney-Schlesinger, whose relationship ended in the year this was painted. Peter stands at the pool’s edge and the man under water, only vaguely recognisable, might be Schlesinger’s new love interest. By showing another young man swimming towards Peter, the artist acknowledges a lost love and his soon to be ex-boyfriend’s desire for a new partner. (bb)

“Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)”, David Hockney, 1972 – image courtesy of the Tate London

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