ARTnewsletter Archive

Banksy Leads Bonhams Sale

The March 29 Urban Art sale held at Bonhams, London, realized £747,300 ($1.2 millon), falling within the £720,000/1 million estimate and indicating healthy demand for this relatively new sale category at auction.

LONDON—The March 29 Urban Art sale held at Bonhams, London, realized £747,300 ($1.2 millon), falling within the £720,000/1 million estimate and indicating healthy demand for this relatively new sale category at auction.

All but ten of the 87 lots, or 12 percent, found buyers. There was a better-than-expected price of £73,250 ($116,316) for Os Gemeos’s 2008 spray paint on canvas, O Aniversario da Meretris (estimate: £30,000/40,000), while Shepard Fairey’s 2005 spray paint on paper, Take Action, sold for £24,375 ($38,706), compared with an estimate of £10,000/15,000.

However, the star of this sale was Banksy, with 17 works in the sale—three paintings on canvas, one painting on cardboard and 13 screenprints on paper—estimated all together at £229,500/343,500. All but one of the artworks found buyers, for a total of £400,175 ($635,453).

His 2002 spray paint on canvas Love is in the Air was the sale’s top lot, earning £87,650 ($139,182), compared with an estimate of £40,000/60,000, and was followed by another 2002 spray paint on canvas, Leopard and Barcode, which sold for £75,650 ($120,127) on an estimate of £60,000/80,000.

Girl and Balloon, 2009, spray paint on canvas, sold for £73,250 ($116,316), compared with an estimate of £15,000/25,000. The one Banksy that did not sell was his 2005 screenprint Kate Moss, which had been estimated at £30,000/50,000.

The 17 Banksy works “came from different sources,” according to Gareth Williams, contemporary art and design specialist at Bonhams who arranged this sale. The sources were all private collectors, mostly from the UK, and all the artworks had been purchased either at galleries or “in exhibitions Banksy himself organized.” He noted that estimates for the Banksy lots varied, based on “rarity and desirability, condition and size, and whether the image is in color or black-and-white” (color is more valuable).

Williams said he ran all 17 works by Pest Control—the principal source of works by and information on this elusive artist—and they were all judged to be authentic. There are three websites associated with Banksy that offer biographical information:, and Pest Control, however, is the only one that offers a certificate of authenticity, which proves crucial for the secondary market.

Fakes have been offered and sold on eBay (two British forgers were convicted of selling £57,000 worth of prints that they produced themselves), and Pest Control claimed to have identified hundreds of street graffiti paintings and prints that are incorrectly attributed to Banksy. A 2008 contemporary art sale at a British auction house, Lyon & Turnbull, was marred by a dispute between the auctioneer and Pest Control over the authenticity of five of the 20 Banksys in the auction.

Banksy introduced his work to the public through unsolicited spray-painted images on outdoor walls and bridges, eventually moving into the creation of salable works—spray-painted canvases and graphic prints—when he entered a gallery.

Screenprints by Banksy, which are printed in editions that range from 10 to 300 in number, vary widely in price from $2,000/60,000, the higher amounts for works that are signed and not just numbered. On the secondary market, condition may also be a factor.

The price of paintings on the secondary market also has a wide range, from $60,000 to over $1 million, according to Acoris Andipa, a London gallery owner who has held annual exhibitions of Banksy’s work since 2006. He noted that every Banksy work he sells “is sent to Pest Control for their authentication, and I also undertake a ridiculous amount of due diligence.”

At auction, Banksy’s work has brought prices upwards of $1 million. The top auction price to date is $1.87 million for Keep It Spotless, 2007, spray paint on canvas, which was sold at Sotheby’s in February 2008, against an estimate of $250,000/350,000. —D.G.