His career spanned barely 10 years but Jean-Michel Basquiat remains one of the most influential and important contemporary artists today. His street art-style paintings can fetch up to nine-figure sums and his collectors include Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp. Here, we list Basquiat’s top-selling paintings at auction.
Untitled, $110,487,500 (£85.2 million)
On 8 May 1984, New York collectors Jerry and Emily Spiegel bought Basquiat’s Untitled from Christie’s for $19,000. Fast forward to 18 May 2017, the painting was once again at auction – almost 33 years to the day of the previous sale – this time at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction.
Bidding started at $57 million and, after more than 10 minutes of intense back-and-form over the telephones, Untitled sold for $110.5 million – setting a new record price for Basquiat and for American artists. The buyer was billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who also snapped up another masterpiece by Basquiat at Christie’s a year earlier (see no. 2 on our list). “When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art. I want to share that experience with as many people as possible,” the Japanese collector wrote on Instagram after the sale.
Only 10 other works had broken the $100 million mark at the time. Three years on, Untitled remains the most expensive artwork by Basquiat sold at auction.
Untitled, $57,285,000 (£39.7 million)
“Where should we open this? $32 million dollars!” announced the auctioneer to a packed Christie’s saleroom in New York on 10 May 2016. A bidding battle for Basquiat’s Untitled quickly commenced. The huge landscape painting – created when the artist was only 22 years old – eventually sold for $57.3 million with fees, a new auction record for Basquiat at the time. The buyer was later revealed as Japanese billionaire and collector Yusaku Maezawa who, a year later, would go on to set another Basquiat auction record with a purchase at Sotheby’s in May 2017 (see no. 1 on our list).
Dustheads, $48,843,750 (£32.1 million)
Estimated between $25-35 million, Dustheads soared past expectations to achieve $48.8 million at Christie’s in New York on 15 May 2013, setting a new record price for Basquiat at the time. The previous record for a Basquiat painting was $26.4 million, set at Christie’s in New York in November 2012. Dustheads was the third most expensive lot of the Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale, which totalled a staggering $495 million, then the highest sales total in art auction history. “We are in a new era of the art market,” remarked Jussi Pylkkanen, the evening’s auctioneer.
Flexible, $45,315,000 (£33.5 million)
Flexible, which Basquiat painted on a picket fence found outside his New York studio, was expected to sell for $20-30 million at Phillips in New York on 17 May 2018. It achieved $45.3 million, becoming the star lot of the night and contributing 34% of the auction’s total. Proceeds from its sale will be used by Basquiat’s estate to foster his artistic and cultural legacy.
The Field Next To The Other Road, $37,125,000 (£23.6 million)
The Field Next To The Other Road, painted in 1981 when Basquiat was only 20 years old, is one of his earliest monumental canvases and features many of the motifs that would inspire his best works, including human figures, anatomy and allegory. Over the past year, Basquiat had put his days as SAMO the graffiti artist behind him and enjoyed his breakout exhibition. 1982 would see the launch of his art career as well as his meeting with Andy Warhol, who would become a close friend and collaborator.
The Field Next To The Other Road was offered at Christie’s in New York on 13 May 2015, where it sold for $37.1 million against an estimate of $25-35 million.
La Hara, $34,967,500 (£26.9 million)
Painted in 1981, La Hara – derived from “jara”, the Puerto Rican slang for “cop” – expressed Basquiat’s loathing of the New York police. For African American graffiti artists like Basquiat, police brutality was a constant threat. In 1983, he painted The Death of Michael Stewart in remembrance of street artist Stewart, who died at the hands of the police earlier that year. “It could have been me,” Basquiat said to his friends.
La Hara soared past its $22-28 million estimate to realise almost $35 million at Christie’s in New York on 17 May 2017.
Untitled, $34,885,000 (£20.7 million)
When New York gallerist Annina Nosei first saw Basquiat’s artwork in 1981, she immediately recognised his potential. She offered to buy him art supplies and use the basement of her gallery as a studio. “It was the first time I had a place to work,” Basquiat recalled. “It was right in the gallery, you know. She used to bring collectors down there, so it wasn’t very private. I didn’t mind. I was young. It was a place to work, which I never had before.”
After Basquiat completed Untitled in Nosei’s gallery basement, it was quickly snapped up by a private collector who kept it for nearly three decades. The fresh-to-auction painting sold for $34.9 million at Christie’s in New York on 13 May 2014.
Flesh And Spirit, $30,711,000 (£22.7 million)
Considered an altarpiece for the modern age, Basquiat’s Flesh And Spirit drew inspiration from the Ghent Altarpiece, Auguste Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, the Kongo cosmogram and Yoruba mythology. The title references Robert Farris Thompson’s Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Philosophy, an investigation into African religious traditions. Basquiat, who had Puerto Rican and Haitian ancestry, incorporated African cultural motifs into his art throughout his career. Flesh And Spirit was purchased by a private collector in the year it was created, 1983, and did not come to auction until 35 years, where it sold for almost $31 million at Sotheby’s in New York on 16 May 2018.
Untitled, $29,285,000 (£18.1 million)
The three-point crown was one of Basquiat’s favourite motifs. Traditionally a symbol of European royalty, Basquiat put crowns on his paintings of Black athletes, musicians and writers in reverence and to put his own spin on Western history. He was also known to put a crown on his own self-portraits, measuring his skills against his heroes’.
Untitled depicts a boxer wearing bright red Everlast shorts and a large golden crown – Basquiat’s sporting heroes included Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. The painting sold for $29.3 million at Christie’s in New York on 12 November 2013.
The only top-ten result by Basquiat achieved at a London auction, Untitled was the star lot of Christie’s Post War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 25 June 2013. The owner had bought the painting for $1.6 million at a Phillips auction in New York in 2002. Over a decade later, its value in dollars was close to $29 million. Untitled was created in 1982, the year where Basquiat’s career took off. The artist moved out of his dealer Annina Nosei’s gallery basement and into his own studio, and he could earn a living from his art. Looking back at that time, Basquiat recalled, “I had some money: I made the best paintings ever.”