Tonight, before a large crowd at Sotheby’s in London, Devolved Parliament, a 2009 painting by the much-mythologized and famously anonymous artist Banksy, sold for a stunning £9.88 million (about $12.20 million), nearly quintupling its high estimate of £2 million ($2.47 million). The sale set a new auction record for the reclusive figure.
“History being made at Sotheby’s,” Sotheby’s chairman of Europe, Oliver Barker, the auctioneer for the contemporary art evening sale, said, as the bidding crossed the £7 million ($8.64 million) threshold.
The previous record for a Banksy at auction was for the 2007 painting Keep It Spotless, which went for $1.87 million at Sotheby’s in New York, way back in February of 2008.
At this same time last year, Banksy also minted headlines at Sotheby’s London, when his work Girl With Balloon (2006) shredded itself as soon as the hammer came down, selling for £1.04 million ($1.28 million). Such antics apparently did not dissuade the bidders who competed for the canvas tonight.
The new Banksy record-holder is an oil on canvas that depicts Britain’s parliament quite literally devolved into our primate predecessors. (No doubt some who have watched that deliberative body flail about over the many months of Brexit debates may look at those monkeys and have a few jokes to share.)
The piece nearly sold for a hammer (which is to say, pre-buyer’s premium) price of £8.3 million to Alex Branczik, head of contemporary art for Europe, who was bidding for someone on the other end of his telephone, but after a long pause another bidder pushed it to £8.4 million, and then Sotheby’s specialist Emma Baker went to £8.5 million, also working with a phone bidder. (The record number £9.88 million comes with the addition of buyer’s premium.)
On Instagram, Bansky responded instantly to the news. “Record price for a Banksy painting set at auction tonight,” the artist wrote. “Shame I didn’t still own it.”
In the Sotheby’s catalogue, the work was described as coming from an “important private collection.” Tonight’s anonymous seller, according to that listing, had acquired it from the artist in 2011.
Annie Armstrong contributed reporting.