Girl With Balloon is Banksy's most iconic image, depicting a young girl reaching for a heart-shaped balloon, just out of her grasp. Fraught with emotive interpretations—some see the girl as losing the balloon, while others see her as on the verge of catching it—it is an allegory of hope, love, and freedom.
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Girl With Balloon is the quintessential Banksy image. Using his signature graffiti stencil technique, this motif is internationally recognisable.
Banksy released the unsigned and signed prints in 2004/2005 in low edition sizes; there are just 150 Girl With Balloon signed prints, and 600 unsigned, making it one of the most sought-after Bansky prints in his entire oeuvre.
It depicts a young girl whose hair and dress are blowing in the wind, reaching for, or releasing, a red, heart-shaped balloon that has slipped from her grasp. The gesture and the red balloon, an archetypal symbol of childhood and freedom, present a powerful message that can be read in a number of ways. Whether you see the girl as losing the balloon, or about to catch it, the meaning can be interpreted as a loss of innocence or the arrival of new hope and love.
The image first appeared in London's Southbank in 2002, together with a quotation that read ‘there is always hope’, before the council painted over it. In response, Banksy produced it again in a new context – a miniature version that appeared on the cardboard backing of a cheap Ikea frame, which quickly made its mark on the art market when it realised £73,250 at a sale at Bonhams in 2012.
Since then, versions of Girl with Balloon have realised well above this. Girl with Balloon – Colour AP (Gold) realised £1,104,000 at Sotheby’s Modern Renaissance: A Cross-Category Sale in 25 March 2021, 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 © Banksy 2004
Girl With Balloon, also called Balloon Girl or Girl With A Balloon, was first created in London in 2002, and was originally stencilled on the walls under Waterloo Bridge at London’s Southbank. Another version appeared around the same time in Shoreditch, East London, on the walls of a printing shop. Sadly, neither of the Girl With Balloon originals is still there—both stencils are now lost—but the image lives on.
To find out more, read our article on London’s Top 12 Banksy Murals
Girl With Balloon (original stencil at Southbank) by Banksy (Image © Dom (CC) / Girl With Balloon © Banksy 2002)
Banksy left Girl With Balloon's meaning characteristically coded, with the only clue an inscription accompanying his original stencil at Southbank: “There Is Always Hope”. Some people interpret Girl With Balloon as a symbol of lost innocence, whilst others believe the girl is setting the balloon free – either way, Banksy is reminding the viewer to hold on to hope, even when it feels out of reach.
Girl With Balloon (Pink) © Banksy 2004
Banksy's message that "There Is Always Hope" has led him to create variations of Girl With Balloon addressing specific political issues. In 2014, he created a version featuring the girl wearing a headscarf, to support victims of the Syria conflict. Two years later, the artist reworked the design to feature a Union Jack balloon, and offered a free print of it to Bristol locals who voted against the Conservative government.
Girl With Balloon (Copper) © Banksy 2004