The most expensive Banksy art can be worth millions. From recent pieces, such as Love Is In The Bin (2021) or Game Changer (2020), to older paintings like Forgive Us Our Trespassing (2011), the artist has seen the value of his art go through the roof. Under the hammer, Banksy's prints and artworks have broken countless records and reached unexpected heights.
What is the key to making returns on a Banksy? Destroying it apparently. Love Is In The Bin had an incredible increase in value when it returned to auction, in it’s half-shredded condition, at Sotheby’s London on 14 October 2021.
Back in 2018, Banksy pulled one of the most famous stunts in art history, when he tried to destroy his painting Girl with Balloon, now Love Is In The Bin, at a Sotheby’s auction. As the hammer went down Girl with Balloon slid through a hidden shredder in the frame and produced an altogether new work. Love Is In The Bin is the only work of art to be created live at auction and is Banksy’s all time highest record sale, achieving almost £18.6 million.
Banksy’s Game Changer raised £16.7 million for the NHS when it was sold at Christie’s 20th Century Art Evening Sale in London on 23 March 2021 – exactly one year after the UK’s first national lockdown. The price started at £1.6 million and skyrocketed as the 15-minute bidding battle unfolded, with the work eventually selling for almost seven times its £2.5 million low estimate.
Banksy had donated the painting to Southampton General Hospital in May 2020, in recognition for the front-line workers’ tireless work during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. A reproduction of Game Changer now hangs in the same place at the hospital.
On 9 November, 2021, the iconic painting Sunflowers from Petrol Station sold for US$14.5million (£10.7million) at Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale in New York.
The work came directly from the private collection of the high profile British fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, and transports Vincent Van Gogh’s world famous series of Sunflower paintings into the contemporary context of the climate crisis. Not only does this work exemplify Banksy’s skill as a painter, but it is also exemplary of the artist’s unmatched ability to use wit and humour to point to pressing global issues.
Banksy’s satirical painting of the House of Commons invaded by chimpanzees sold in the Sotheby’s Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale for £9.9 million on 3 October 2019. Spanning a huge 4 metres in width, Devolved Parliament was painted in 2009 and had a pre-sale estimate of just £1.5–2 million.
The artist reacted to the result by posting a quote on his Instagram from art critic Robert Hughes which included the line, ‘But the price of a work of art is now part of its function, its new job is to sit on the wall and get more expensive’ along with the comment, ‘Record price for a Banksy painting set at auction tonight. Shame I didn’t still own it.’
This Banksy canvas of Love Is In The Air made headlines ahead of its sale at Sotheby’s in New York on 12 May 2021 for being the first physical artwork sold at auction where the buyer had the option to pay in bitcoin, ether or US dollars. Estimated at US$3-5million, it eventually achieved US$12.9million (£9.2million). Sotheby’s announced a day after the sale that they accepted a cryptocurrency payment for the painting.
At £7,551,600, Show Me The Monet became the second most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London on 21 October 2020.
Banksy had written in 2005, the year he made the painting, that the “real damage done to our environment is not done by graffiti writers and drunken teenagers, but by big business… exactly the people who put gold-framed pictures of landscapes on their walls and try to tell the rest of us how to behave”. Fifteen years on, his critique remains as relevant as ever.
Banksy's Forgive Us Our Trespassing from 2011 sold to an anonymous collector for HK$64.1 million (£6.3 million) after an eight-minute bidding battle at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on 4 October 2020.
At 7m tall, the painting is among Banksy’s largest known canvases and is a reworking of his 2010 graffiti painting in Salt Lake City, Utah. Banksy invited over 100 students from Los Angeles’ City of Angels school to help tag the piece’s graffiti-covered stained glass windows.
On this peaceful landscape of Seattle’s Mount Rainier National Park, painted by German-American artist Albert Bierstadt in 1890, Banksy has captioned in tiny letters at the bottom of the artwork: “*subject to availability for a limited period only” – a darkly humorous comment given that Mount Rainier is still an active volcano.
The painting sold for nearly £4.6 million at Christie’s in London on 30 June 2021.
One of the most recognisable examples of Banksy’s Vandalised Oils series, this work epitomises the artist’s anti-war sentiment. Two approaching military helicopters burst forth from the skyline of Claude Lorraine’s pastoral oil painting beneath, creating a jarring amalgam of modern, hollywood-style violence with the apparent serenity of the landscape below.
Banksy also leans into the conflict between the typical ‘high art’ conventions of oil painting, captured by the gilt frame, with the bluntness associated with spray paint and street art. Lifting imagery from footage of the Vietnam war, this work is likely a comment on the Iraq war, which took place at the time it was painted, and when Vandalised Oil (Choppers) sold for nearly £4.4 million in March 2022 at Sotheby’s London.
Banksy’s satirical comment on our frenzied consumer society was perhaps lost on the buyer of this canvas, who paid more than double the estimated price at Christie’s in Hong Kong on 24 May 2021. Sale Ends Today was estimated at HK$21-28 million but eventually sold for HK$47 million (£4.3 million).
Banksy’s 2006 oil painting depicting the silhouettes of three cavemen poised to spear a modern day shopping trolley remains as poignant today as when it was first created. Typical of the artist’s darker sense of humour and overt criticism of contemporary consumerist culture, Trolley Hunters is one of his more searing examinations of how humanity has become wholly dependent on modern capitalist structures - to the point of total separation from our basic human instincts.
Sold for US$6,698,400 (£4,148,508) at Sotheby’s New York on 18th November 2021, the empty trolleys and sparse landscape here only remind us of the fragility of these consumerist structures so heavily relied on - a fragility made only more pertinent by the effects of the pandemic. We are ultimately forced to ask whether the promises made by capitalism are in fact as empty as the trolleys these people are trying to pin down.
Girl with Balloon is the quintessential Banksy motif. Ambiguous, emotionally charged and utterly iconic, this particular print has been created using the artist’s well-known stencil technique on metal. One of two works sold at Sotheby’s on March 2nd 2022 from Robbie Williams’ collection, Girl with Balloon garnered £2,818,000.
Despite being released in a number of different colourways, the red balloon remains the most recognisable and popular of Banksy’s prints - likely because it matches the original graffiti first painted in London’s Waterloo in 2004.
In 1991, Hollywood star Demi Moore shocked the press with her heavily pregnant Vanity Fair cover. 15 years later, Banksy created this tongue-in-cheek reimagining of the photograph – replacing Moore’s face with his iconic monkey mask – and featured it in the posters for his landmark Barely Legal exhibition in Los Angeles. This canvas sold for £2,677,000 at Sotheby’s in London on 25 March 2021, beating works by Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst.
This unique Laugh Now painting on metal was purchased at Banksy’s Barely Legal show in Los Angeles in 2006, and had remained with the same collector until it was offered at Sotheby’s in London on 29 June 2021. The auction house announced they would accept payment in British Pounds, ether or bitcoin for the artwork.
To raise funds for a Bethlehem hospital, Banksy donated a set of three oil paintings spotlighting the European migrant crisis to Sotheby’s From Rembrandt to Richter evening auction on 28 July 2020. The tryptic, Mediterranean Sea View 2017, sold for £2.23 million.
All the proceeds were donated to the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation and will be used to build a new acute stroke unit and purchase children’s rehabilitation equipment.
Created in the same year that the first Laugh Now mural was made for Brighton’s Ocean Rooms nightclub, this early Banksy painting sold for HK$24.5 million (£2.2 million) at Phillips in Hong Kong on 8 June 2021. It was the first time a physical work of art sold in an Asian auction was paid for using digital currency.
Undisguised criticism and satirisation of contemporary political and social events are, at this point, to be expected of Banksy’s work. Happy Choppers, from 2006, is no exception. Sold for £2,131,500 in March 2022 at Christie’s London, this print depicts a series of approaching military helicopters set against a cartoonish blue-sky backdrop. The foremost of which bears a bright pink bow.
Though open to interpretation, Happy Choppers seems to comment on the often sugarcoated reality of warfare, with the pink bow perhaps nodding to how contemporary governments present military intervention as a ‘gift’ or mode of charity rather than aggression. The bright, almost childish colour scheme in contrast with military machinery only adds to the dissonance between the violence of warfare in reality and our experience of it as bystanders.
Stencilled in spray paint on a reproduced Old Master work, Monkey Poison from 2004 features Banksy’s most beloved character – the chimpanzee. Banksy has used this motif since the early 2000s and it is now arguably his most iconic. His other well-known works to feature chimps include Monkey Queen, Laugh Now and, of course, Devolved Parliament.
Monkey Poison offers the dark humour and socio-political undercurrents typical of Banksy’s style: a cheerful, comic strip-like character in a quintessential pastoral scene, unaware of the poison he consumes. It is both a comment on the excess of fossil fuels in our modern culture and a pointed critique on animal cruelty. The work sold at Phillips in New York on 2 July 2020.
On 28 October 2020, the sale of Sorry The Lifestyle You Ordered Is Currently Out Of Stock at Sotheby’s in New York set a new auction record for a joint work by Banksy and Damien Hirst.
The collaborative piece – which combines Hirst’s recognisable dot patterns with Banksy’s signature graffiti style – is the second work by Banksy and Hirst to go under the hammer. It has been over a decade since the pair’s last collaboration, Keep It Spotless, sold for £1.3 million at Sotheby’s in New York in 2008.
When the frame is held up against a light, both images are fused into a single composition – the girl is transported to the saleroom and the auctioneer appears to be reaching out to the balloon. The rare work sold for £1.23 million at Phillips in London on 20 October 2020, close to double its £500,00-700,000 estimate.
Banksy first created Vote To Love for the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition in 2018, submitting it under the pseudonym Bryan S Gaakman (an anagram of “Anagram Banksy”). The work – which features a spray painted heart over a UKIP poster, replacing its message to ‘Leave’ the European Union with ‘Love’ instead – was initially rejected by the committee.
It was later accepted when Banksy resubmitted the work under his own name. Vote To Love sold for £1.15 million almost twice its high estimate, to an American banker at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 11 February 2019. When asked why he made the purchase, he reportedly said, “What can I say, my kids love it.”
In 2021, Banksy’s Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (gold) realised £1.1 million at Sotheby’s Modern Renaissance: A Cross-Category Sale on 25 March. Achieving almost double its high estimate, the screenprint flew past the previous auction record held by a Banksy print, set by Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (purple) at Christie’s in September 2020 for £791,250. Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (gold) is of course based on Banksy’s original Girl With A Balloon murals and the painting that became Love Is In The Bin – but features a very rare gold heart balloon instead of the classic red version.