This has been interpreted as portraying a very special moment in David Hockney's romantic life. Artist Portrait (Pool with Two Numbers), which sold for $ 90.3m (£ 70.3m) at an auction in New York last week, showing his ex-girlfriend and musei standing next to the pool – and a man who might be a new girlfriend of a painter swimming underwater.
But Peter Schlesinger, Hockney's former partner who is one of his students at the University of California, Los Angeles, has rejected the interpretation of the work that now makes Yorkshire-born painters the most valuable living artists in the world. He said it was not a description of "emotional" – and maybe not even, in a meaningful sense, a portrait of him.
"This is an amazing picture, and it contains the two most iconic genres in one picture, swimming pool, and multiple portraits, but I can't speak to the emotional element because I think it's not emotional," Schlesinger told Observer. "There was my figure standing and the figure in the water was painted differently. That's a conceptual problem. I don't even think it's my portrait, really. "
Schlesinger, a ceramic craftsman who recently published two well-known photographic books depicting the creative environment of London in the early 1970s, believes the more complicated romantic interpretation of the painting can only be made "looking back".
But the interpretation remains, with New York time critic Roberta Smith described the painting last year as a "complex emotional drama inspired by personal relationships".
When 1972 paintings fell under the hammer at Christie, dethroning Jeff Koons as the most expensive living artist, the offer continued for nine minutes, a testimony to Hockney's increasingly critical and commercial signs.
Christie described it as "one of the great masterpieces of the modern era". The auction house does not reveal the identity of the buyer or seller, but it is reported that the painting belongs to a British currency trader, Joe Lewis, whose company owns Tottenham Hotspur soccer club. Lewis is believed to have collected a $ 1 billion art collection, including works by Picasso, Matisse, Bacon, and Freud.
Hockney, now 81, performed swimming portraits at Provençal villa filmmaker Tony Richardson, Le Nid du Duc – "owl nest". But Schlesinger is not near the pool; he posed for portraits, fully clothed and in Kensington Gardens London, while the picture itself was executed during a work party three months after the two men broke up.
In the picture, the figure of Schlesinger is wearing a pink jacket facing the sunbathing pool. Various mountains appear as backgrounds. The swimmer is considered to be Hockney's new lover, Eric Boman. But Schlesinger only saw it as "a big painting".
"I don't interpret it as a broken image," Schlesinger said. "You can talk everything you want about Jeff Koons Balloon Dog [a version of which had previously held the record price at auction for a living artist] but there are lots around them. With David, there is only one of them, and that's a good painting. "
Hockney's separation from Schlesinger in the early 1970s was recorded in the 1974 film Greater Splash, which took the title from the picture of California's most famous swimming pool.
Sales Portrait of an Artist comes when the steady flow of work to the market slows down to a little. But when they emerge, competition is very tight.
The day before sales, paintings of Edward Hopper in 1929 Capcay sold for $ 91.9 million, at a cost, auction footage for artists. The previous best price for Hopper, which was set in 2013, was less than half, at $ 40.5m.
Schlesinger believes Hockney's moment finally came: "David has always been a very popular artist but his values are not in line with that. Now the price has overtaken his reputation. "
Hockney's increasing popularity may be partly due to the famous 2017 retrospective at Tate Britain and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. This event received praise from Smith of the New York time to make a clear "homosexual" representation of homosexual love and friendship.