David Hockney, the 81-year-old British painter of saturated landscapes and portraits, could become the most expensive living artist at auction this year.

Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” is being offered for sale to auction houses by billionaire Joe Lewis, who’s seeking at least $80 million for the work, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. The current highest price for a living artist is $58.4 million for Jeff Koons’s orange balloon dog.

Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips have been approached, with Christie’s the front-runner, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the consignment hasn’t been formally announced.

Lewis has built a $5.5 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The foreign currency trader has parlayed his earnings into an array of assets that include London soccer team Tottenham Hotspur, real estate and masterpieces by artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Lucian Freud.

A representative for Lewis, the chairman and founder of Bahamas-based Tavistock Group, didn’t return emails or a telephone call seeking comment. Christie’s declined to comment on the work or the seller and it’s unclear whether it will be offered during October sales in London or at the semi-annual auctions in New York in November.

Iconic Image
The 1972 canvas depicts two men: One, fully clothed, stands at the edge of a swimming pool gazing down at another, who is submerged. The hilly landscape behind them was inspired by the South of France. The standing man is Peter Schlesinger, an artist and Hockney’s ex-boyfriend; Hockney was working on the painting at the time when their relationship was ending.

Recently exhibited in Hockney’s retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the work is considered one of his most iconic images. A small study for the scene fetched $2.1 million in 2016.

Lewis’s asking price is a staggering figure even though prices for Hockney’s work have surged in recent months. Sotheby’s set two auction records for Hockney during the same sale in May. The most expensive, a 1990 landscape “Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica,” fetched $28.5 million. Works by the artist have generated a record $66.6 million at auction this year, up more than 80 percent from all his auction sales in 2017, according to Artprice, an online database.

--With assistance from Tom Metcalf.