David Hockney
A visitor views "Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)", a 1972-painting by David Hockney, during a press preview for the British artists' retrospective at Tate Britain in London, England, Feb. 6, 2017. Getty Images/ Jack Taylor

British artist David Hockney’s painting “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” was sold for $90.3 million at Christie’s in Manhattan, New York City, on Thursday, setting a new record for the most expensive art piece sold at auction by a living artist. It shattered the milestone earlier held by Jeff Koons, whose sculpture “Balloon Dog” was sold for $58.4 million in 2013.

The painting was made on a 10 by seven feet canvas, featuring Hockney’s ex-boyfriend and muse Peter Schlesinger, dressed in a pink coat, cream-colored trousers and brown shoes, looking down at a semi-naked underwater swimmer who reportedly was a young photographer called John St Clair.

The setting of “Portrait of an Artist,” the painter’s most reproduced and most well-known painting, was Le Nid du Duc (the nest of the night owl) – a villa owned by Tony Richardson, the director of movies like “A Taste Of Honey” and “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner” in Saint-Tropez, France – where both Hockney and his former lover were invited as guests for the summer of 1969. Other eminent invitees included painter Patrick Procktor and fashion designer Ossie Clark.

“There never seemed to be fewer than 20 guests; cleaning ladies, children, John Gielgud [actor] perhaps, or [ballet dancer Rudolf] Nureyev, sat down to lunch together,” writer John Mortimer said, Mail Online reported.

The sprawling mansion, with eight stone houses and blue doors with parrots and peacocks flying around, left a lasting impression on Hockney and provided the backdrop for several of his paintings in the following couple of years.

However, it wouldn’t be until Hockney went through a bad split with Schlesinger in 1971 that the idea of the painting would come to the former. The idea for the painting struck Hockney after two other paintings in his studio in Powis Terrace, Notting Hill, became juxtaposed in his mind.

“One was of a figure swimming underwater and therefore quite distorted . . . the other was a boy gazing at something on the ground. The idea of painting two figures in different styles appealed so much that I began immediately,” Hockney explained.

David Hockney
David Hockney poses at the Taschen stand in front of a giant poster at the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Oct. 19, 2016. Getty Images/ Hannelore Foerster

The first attempt at creating the painting failed. Hockney worked and reworked the painting for a span of six months after which he ended up ripping his creation. He gave it another try in 1972, only when the New York exhibition was looming ahead.

Before he started on his second attempt, Hockney dug up photos of the villa and his ex-lover dressed in the exact clothes as in the painting, standing in the Kensington Gardens, London. The painter worked tirelessly for 18 hours a day, taking just a couple of weeks to finish his masterpiece.

The very next year, “Portrait of an Artist” was sold for 20,000 pounds ($25,627) to a man who spotted it in Hockney’s studio. It was sold for 50,000 pounds ($64,069) again after six months.