Early Jean-Michel Basquiat Painting Could Fetch Nearly $50 Million at Sotheby’s

Shreeya Maskey
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Known for his gestural style inspired by graffiti, Jean-Michel Basquiat was one of the leading American artists of the 20th century. His works include references to historical art movements, religious iconography, and pop culture. Despite his short career, Basquiat holds an important place in the history of American art. Unlike many other artists of his generation, he dominated neo-expressionism while still developing his own style and visual language.

In the upcoming Contemporary Art Evening Auction, Sotheby’s will present a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting that has never come to auction before. This live sale will begin at 7:30 PM EDT on May 12th, 2021 in New York.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Versus Medici. Image from Sotheby’s.
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Versus Medici. Image from Sotheby’s.

Titled Versus Medici, this acrylic, oil stick, and paper collage painting shows a black skeletal figure with overlaid pink markings. The title refers to the Italian Medici family that ruled Florence during the Renaissance. A scrawled text in Greek reads “Aopkehsks” in the background. Basquiat derived the word from the Greek “apotheosis,” or the elevation of a human being to a god-like status. Featuring the artist’s hallmark visual language, Versus Medici challenges the legacy of the Italian Renaissance, an art movement associated with innovation and achievement. Basquiat drew inspiration from the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo, and others.

Basquiat painted the 1982 work when he was only 22 years old. Although Basquiat completed the painting at the start of his career, he ambitiously confronted the history of Western art. In the painting, the viewer can also observe a symbolic crown, which became a recurring motif in his works.

Jean-michel Basquiat, Versus Medici, 1982. Estimate: $35,000,000 – $50,000,000. Image from Sotheby’s.
Jean-michel Basquiat, Versus Medici, 1982. Estimate: $35,000,000 – $50,000,000. Image from Sotheby’s.

Versus Medici has a presale estimate of USD $35 million to $50 million, marking it as one of the highest-priced paintings by the late artist. According to the Artnet Price Database, if the painting achieves its high estimate, it could be the third most expensive sold at auction to date.

“Not only does the painting stand among the most powerful within his oeuvre, but it is also a radical repositioning of art history, epitomizing Basquiat’s enduring legacy as a true master and icon that firmly places him within the lineage of the Renaissance masters he confronts in this work,” Grégoire Billault, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art in New York, said in a statement.

The upcoming Contemporary Art Evening Auction will be held on May 12th, 2021 at 7:30 PM EDT. Visit Sotheby’s for more information about the Jean-Michel Basquiat painting and to place a bid.

Several new-to-the-market works are coming up for auction this year. Check out Auction Daily’s coverage of Yayoi Kusama’s dotted paintings at Bonhams.

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