The World’s Largest Painting: From Lockdown Project to Auction Record

Liz Catalano
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While the world was in lockdown, Sacha Jafri set to work on an ambitious new project: making the world’s largest painting. Jafri developed the idea while experiencing delays, cancellations, and disappointments caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The artist, who splits his time between Dubai, London, and New York, felt a pressing need for hope. 

Jafri worked on The Journey of Humanity for months. In late September of 2020, Guinness World Records certified that the 17,176-square-foot painting is the largest art canvas in the world. Jafri then announced his plan to auction the massive work for charity. He hoped to raise USD 30 million over four separate sales. However, a single bidder unexpectedly bought the complete painting for $62 million on March 22nd, 2021. The creator of the world’s largest painting is now also the fourth most expensive living artist. 

How did Jafri reach these heights? Auction Daily tracks the timeline of this record-breaking painting.

Sacha Jafri with The Journey of Humanity in Dubai. Image courtesy of Sacha Jafri.
Sacha Jafri with The Journey of Humanity in Dubai. Image courtesy of Sacha Jafri.

Early 2020: Planning & Execution

“2020 was meant to be the biggest year of my career,” Sacha Jafri told The Art Newspaper this March. “I had my big 18-year retrospective at the Saatchi Gallery and I was doing a painting for Dubai Expo and the painting for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. Then everything got cancelled.”

Jafri started to imagine a large-scale painting that would cut through the silence and tragedy of COVID-19. He specifically sought the input of children, the population he supports with his art. Jafri received millions of ideas from children in over 140 countries. To create the painting, Jafri settled in the ballroom of Atlantis, The Palm hotel in Dubai.

Jafri spent the next several months bent double over The Journey of Humanity. He used 1,065 small brushes to spread approximately 1,400 gallons of paint over the canvas. The work was physically grueling for the artist. Jafri worked alone for up to 20 hours a day and endured severe back and foot injuries while painting.

Auction attendees view The Journey of Humanity. Image courtesy of Humanity Inspired.
Auction attendees view The Journey of Humanity. Image courtesy of Humanity Inspired.

Late 2020: Display & Auction Announcement

Jafri finished The Journey of Humanity in the fall of 2020. After the obligatory photographs and Guinness certification, Jafri cut the painting into 70 pieces for display around the hotel. Visitors could view the framed pieces for several months. Jafri then announced his plan to auction the sections within the next few years. In the meantime, Jafri saw a repeat visitor.

“This guy kept coming in, with a thick French accent, and saying ‘Sacha, you can’t break up this painting, it would be a travesty,’” Jafri said. “He came in seven days in a row for about four or five hours a day.” That stranger bought the complete painting a few months later.

Sacha Jafri (left) with Andre Abdoune (right), the new owner of The Journey of Humanity. Image courtesy of Humanity Inspired.
Sacha Jafri (left) with Andre Abdoune (right), the new owner of The Journey of Humanity. Image courtesy of Humanity Inspired.

March 2021: Auction & Aftermath

On March 22nd, Jafri sponsored the first auction of the world’s largest painting. Early telephone bids arrived from around the globe. The painting’s frequent admirer attended in person. Andre Abdoune, a French national residing in Dubai, entered the bidding war at $50 million and won the piece for $62 million. Over the last 18 years of his career, Jafri raised $30 million for children’s charities. This single painting more than doubled that figure. It also sent the artist’s auction record through the roof. Artnet reports that Jafri’s previous high was TWD 2.16 million (USD 70,745), set in 2019 at a Taiwanese auction house.

After the sale this March, Jafri joined the ranks of the world’s most expensive living artists. He now trails behind only Beeple, David Hockney, and Jeff Koons. The auction industry is still adjusting to Beeple and NFTs, which took the world by storm earlier this year. Beeple’s all-digital EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS achieved $69.3 million at Christie’s and introduced many traditional art buyers to the complexities of NFTs.

Sacha Jafri with panels of The Journey of Humanity. Image from Humanity Inspired.
Sacha Jafri with panels of The Journey of Humanity. Image from Humanity Inspired.

While Jafri’s The Journey of Humanity is a conventional paint-and-canvas artwork, its buyer has ties to the crypto world. Abdoune is a cryptocurrency entrepreneur with an interest in social change. “I come from a poor family, and I knew at times how it feels to have nothing to eat, but at least I had the love of my parents, schooling, and support,” Abdoune told Agence France-Presse, as reported by Barron’s. “The painting was very powerful when I saw it, and, for me, it would have been a mistake to separate the pieces.” 

Dubai Cares, UNICEF, UNESCO, and the Global Gift Foundation will split the proceeds from the auction. As for The Journey of Humanity, Abdoune plans to build a museum in Dubai for its display.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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