A portrait of David Hockney by Lucian Freud sold at Sotheby’s in London during a British modern art evening sale on Tuesday for £14.9 million ($20.7 million) with buyer’s premium. The portrait is now the sixth-most expensive work by Freud to ever sell at auction. Both Freud and Hockney are among Britain’s most acclaimed artists.
Five phone bidders from New York, London and Asia competed for the work. The work hammered at £12.8 million ($17.7 million), putting the final sum just above its £12 million ($16.6 million) high estimate. It went to a collector based in London bidding on the phone with Sotheby’s London contemporary art specialist James Sevier.
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The portrait, painted in 2002, was exhibited in Freud’s 2012 retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in London. At the time it was painted, Freud was 80 years old, and Hockney was 65. It depicts a close-up of Hockney’s face; the artist appears to be mid-thought while looking out toward the viewer.
The seller of the work, who went unnamed by the house, purchased it from an American collector in 2015. The previous owner bought it privately from Freud’s dealer, Acquavella Galleries, in 2003 for a reported asking price of £3 million.
The two artists first met in 1962, when Freud was already well-established and Hockney was still a student. For the painting, Hockey sat for over a hundred hours during the course of four months in the run-up to Freud’s showcase at the Tate Britain. “All the hours I sat were layered into it; he had always added, rarely taken anything away,” Hockney said of the completed work in a tribute to Freud in 2011, the year the artist died.
Paintings by Freud are scarcely traded at auction, and when they do head to sale, they typically attract large sums. The portrait of Hockney is still well below the current auction benchmark for Freud, which was set in May 2015 when his painting of a reclining nude Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) sold at Christie’s for $56 million.