A resident of the U.S. who wants a slice of the good life can have an in-ground pool installed in their backyard for as little as $20,000. But that same U.S. resident who merely wants a picture of poolside bliss—painted by no less than British art giant David Hockney—will need to have closer to $30 million in ready cash.
There are few artists more in-demand than Hockney, who, for a buzzy moment in late 2018 and early 2019, held the title of the most expensive living artist. His Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) from 1972 clocked $90.3 million at a Christie’s auction in New York; Hockney was knocked off his perch the following year by one of Jeff Koons’s sculptural bunnies. There are few motifs more closely associated with Hockney than the California swimming pool. Hockney’s own personal sales records are tied to pool-related works; the aforementioned Portrait of an Artist is his most expensive painting, while Piscine De Medianoche (Paper Pool 30) (1972) remains his priciest work on paper, having earned $11.7 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2018.
Hockney’s first experiment with the swimming pool motif was painted in 1964. Picture of a Hollywood Swimming Pool is an interesting, almost minimalist take on the subject. The tangled designs on the bottom of the pool itself make it seem like its own abstract painting-within-the-painting. Everything else is spare, almost an afterthought: a potted plant; some foliage in the background; a blue lounge chair that seems slumped in drunken relaxation. For Hockney pool aficionados, it’s now a classic. While the work earned a relatively modest $610,750 when it sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2001, it ended up back on the block with the house in 2019—this time, racking up an astounding $7.2 million.