The Significance of David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures”

David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures” is one of the most recognizable paintings of the 20th century. Created in 1972, it depicts two figures, one standing at the edge of a swimming pool, the other submerged in the water. The painting has become a cultural icon, with references to it appearing in movies, music videos, and other forms of popular media. In this blog post, we will explore the many meanings and interpretations of this iconic painting.

What Does the Pool in David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures” Represent?

At first glance, the pool in Hockney’s painting may seem like nothing more than a simple aquatic setting. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the pool is much more than that. The bright turquoise water reflects the California sunshine, giving the painting a sense of warmth and energy. The pool also acts as a symbol of wealth and luxury, as swimming pools were not yet a ubiquitous feature of the American landscape in the early 1970s.

The pool represents something else, too: a sense of nostalgia. Hockney painted “Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures” after moving to New York City, following a long period of living and painting in Los Angeles. The swimming pool was a symbol of his memories and experiences from his time in California, and it represents a longing for the lifestyle and freedom that he had enjoyed there.

“Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures”: The Painting

Of course, the real focus of “Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures” is the two figures themselves. The painting is based on a photograph that Hockney took of two of his friends, Peter Schlesinger and Nick Wilder. In the painting, Schlesinger stands at the edge of the pool, looking disinterestedly towards the viewer. Meanwhile, Wilder is submerged in the water, his body partially obscured by the splash he has just created.

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The figures in the painting are portrayed with a remarkable level of detail and realism, thanks to Hockney’s skill as a portraitist. Schlesinger is depicted with cool detachment, his long limbs and sharp features suggesting an air of sophistication and aloofness. Wilder, on the other hand, is rendered with a sense of fluidity and movement, his distorted features and blurred outline evoking the moment of his splash.

The painting’s composition is also notable. The two figures are positioned at opposite ends of the canvas, creating a sense of distance and separation. Meanwhile, the angle of the pool creates a diagonal line that bisects the painting, giving it a sense of dynamism and movement.

What Does “Pool with Two Figures” Represent?

The many layers of meaning in “Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures” have led to numerous interpretations of the painting over the years. For some, it is a commentary on the hedonism and pleasure-seeking of the 1970s, with the pool and the figures representing a kind of decadent excess. For others, it is a meditation on the tension between surface-level appearances and deeper emotions, with Schlesinger’s detached facade contrasting with the hidden depths of Wilder’s submerged body.

Another interpretation of the painting is that it is a self-portrait of sorts. Hockney is often described as a chronicler of the gay experience, and “Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures” can be read as a subtle exploration of the complexities of same-sex desire. Schlesinger, with his cool detachment, represents the more straight-laced and conventional attitudes towards homosexuality that were prevalent at the time. Wilder, on the other hand, represents the more brazen and liberated attitudes that were emerging in the gay community in the 1970s.

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David Hockney’s Most Expensive Painting

“Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures” is also notable for its record-breaking sale price. In November of 2018, the painting sold at Christie’s Auction House in New York for $90.3 million, making it the most expensive work by a living artist to ever be sold at auction.

The painting’s high price tag is a testament to Hockney’s status as one of the most esteemed and influential artists of the 20th century. It also speaks to the enduring appeal of “Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures,” which remains an iconic and much-loved work of art nearly 50 years after it was created.

David Hockney’s Pool Painting Meaning

All of these interpretations and meanings come together to create a portrait of a painting that is rich, complex, and endlessly fascinating. David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist Pool with Two Figures” is a masterpiece of modern art, and its enduring popularity is a testament to its power and beauty. Whether you see it as a symbol of decadence, a meditation on human emotion, or a reflection of Hockney’s own experiences and desires, there is no denying that this painting continues to captivate and inspire people around the world.