Art Market

Banksy Sells for Record $12.1 Million at Sotheby’s Frieze Week Sale

Benjamin Sutton
Oct 3, 2019 11:27PM

Banksy, Devolved Parliament, 2009. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

For the second year in a row, Banksy dominated the Sotheby’s Frieze Week evening sale of contemporary art in London—but this time, without the shredding. The secretive British artist’s massive piece of political satire, Devolved Parliament (2009), vaulted its high estimate of £2 million ($2.4 million) to eventually hammer down at £8.5 million ($10.4 million), or £9.8 million ($12.1 million) with fees, setting a new Banksy auction record. It tied with a large Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, Pyro (1984), for the night’s top price.

“Tonight was unequivocally about street artists who’ve made it into art history,” Alex Branczik, senior director and head of contemporary art, Europe at Sotheby’s, said at a press conference after the sale. “This is a remarkable moment, to be seeing Basquiat and Banksy leading an evening sale.”


Banksy took to Instagram shortly after the sale, posting a Robert Hughes quotation with the caption: “Record price for a Banksy painting set at auction tonight. Shame I didn’t still own it.” While he may not have been a direct beneficiary, according to the Sotheby’s catalog, Banksy is entitled to resale royalties from Thursday night’s record sale, so he may still receive a modest return.

Though the results for the Basquiat and the Banksy were equal, the latter was by far the evening’s star lot, inspiring a dramatic bidding war that dragged on for 13 minutes. The sale otherwise was subdued and stayed firmly within its pre-sale estimate range of £40.4 million to £56 million ($49.6 million–$68.7 million), with a total hammer price of £45.8 million ($56.2 million), which came to £54.7 million ($67.1 million) with fees. Because pre-sale estimates do not factor in fees, the hammer total is a truer indicator of a sale’s overall performance.

Of the sale’s 42 lots, three were withdrawn and five failed to sell, making for a sell-through rate of 87 percent by lot. That result put Thursday’s night’s total about 20 percent below the equivalent evening sale’s total last year, which was £67.3 million ($87.3 million).

Top Lots

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Natives Carrying Things, 1983. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pyro, 1984. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

  • Banksy’s Devolved Parliament (2009) surpassed its high estimate as well as the artist’s existing auction record—$1.8 million, dating back to 2008—in a matter of seconds. Bidders on the phone with Sotheby’s specialists and in the room gradually drove the price up to £5 million, after which clients calling in to Branczik and head of evening sale Emma Baker competed with each other and a man near the back of the salesroom in £100,000 increments. Finally, after 13 minutes, Baker’s bidder prevailed, snatching it at a hammer price of £8.5 million ($10.4 million), or £9.8 million ($12.1 million) with fees.
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Pyro (1984) landed at the same price as the Banksy, but fell shy of its on-request estimate of more than £9 million ($11 million). After a brief competition between phone bidders, it sold to a buyer on the line with Branczik for a hammer price of £8.5 million ($10.4 million), or £9.8 million ($12.1 million) with fees.
  • Basquiat’s Natives Carrying Things (1983), a large but comparatively sparse painting of two figures carrying bins marked “FOOD” and “SALT” over their heads, was the third-biggest lot of the night. It passed its low estimate of £2.5 million ($3 million) thanks to competition between phone bidders and ultimately sold for a hammer price of £2.7 million ($3.3 million), or £3.2 million ($3.9 million) with fees.

In addition to obliterating Banksy’s auction record, Sotheby’s notched new high marks for two other artists. The evening’s opening lot, Nicole Eisenman’s Close to the Edge (2015), sparked fevered bidding from the phone banks and buyers in the room, quickly passing its high estimate of £180,000 ($220,000) to sell for a hammer price of £520,000 ($638,000) to a bidder sitting at the front of the salesroom. With fees, the price came to £639,000 ($784,000), well ahead of Eisenman’s previous record of $670,000, set at Phillips in May 2017. According to advisor Josh Baer’s art market newsletter, the buyer was Acquavella Galleries.

Nicole Eisenman, Close to the Edge, 2015. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Salvatore Scarpitta, Housing Developed, 1960. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

The sale’s bevy of works by Italian modernists earned mixed results, but did see a new record set for a work by Salvatore Scarpitta. The artist’s Housing Developed (1960) sold for a hammer price of £2.1 million ($2.5 million), or £2.5 million ($3.1 million) with fees, edging out his previous record of £2.1 million ($2.7 million), which was set at Sotheby’s three years ago.


After Wednesday night’s chipper evening sale of 20th century and contemporary art at Phillips, the Sotheby’s sale was a decidedly more muted affair, with over 40 percent of lots selling within their pre-sale estimates. On Friday, Sotheby’s will hold its day sale of contemporary art, followed by Christie’s evening sale and, on Saturday, the Christie’s day sale, capping off the Frieze Week auctions in London.

The shocking result for Banksy’s Devolved Parliament may signal the mysterious artist’s ascent to a new weight class on the secondary market. Sotheby’s specialists certainly seemed to think so. Branczik noted that among the more than one dozen bidders tonight there was at least one institution, suggesting a new level of art world approbation for Banksy, who has not typically been embraced by museums.

“Tonight showed that very serious people now consider him a great artist,” Branczik said. “Or at least think he will come to be seen as one of the great artists of this time.”

Benjamin Sutton