David Hockney painting auctions for record $90M

David Hockney's Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) — perhaps the most recognized piece in the English painter's swimming pool series — fetched $90 million US at Christie's New York auction on Thursday, becoming the most expensive work sold by a living artist.

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) becomes priciest work sold by living artist

A woman looks at painter David Hockney's Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) during a press preview in September at Christie's New York. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

David Hockney's Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) — perhaps the most recognized piece in the English painter's swimming pool series — fetched $90 million US at Christie's New York auction on Thursday, becoming the most expensive work sold by a living artist.

The previous record was held by American artist Jeff Koons, whose massive, stainless steel piece Balloon Dog (Orange) sold for $58.4 million US at a Christie's New York auction in November 2013.

Started in 1971, Portrait of an Artist was inspired by two unrelated photos that had fallen together in Hockney's studio.

He began a new work that cast his former lover and favourite muse, California artist Peter Schlesinger, as a young man looking down at a swimming figure.

But, while grappling with the breakdown of their relationship, Hockney realized after months of work that he wasn't happy with the composition — the angle of the pool was all wrong. He'd have to start over with just weeks to go before the painting was due at a significant art exhibit in 1972.

Working 18-hour days for a solid two weeks before the show, Hockney has recalled he "literally finished the painting the night before it had to be sent off to the exhibition." That difficult period was captured in the provocative docudrama A Bigger Splash

With files from CBC's Jessica Wong