In the galleries of Sotheby’s London auction house hang three oil paintings of seascapes. Entitled ‘Mediterranean Sea View 2017’, at first glance the triptych does not appear out of place alongside works by some of the greatest landscape painters including Bernardo Bellotto, Jan Van Goyen and JMW Turner. Except these are not the 19th century landscapes they appear to be but contemporary reworkings of ‘found’ oil paintings by artist-cum-activist, Banksy.
The triptych were sold at Sotheby’s ‘Rembrandt to Richter’ sale on 28 July 2020 for £2,235,000. Executed in 2017, Banksy transformed the reclaimed paintings into a political message about the European migrant ‘crisis’ of the 2010s by hand-painting bright orange abandoned life jackets and buoys into the composition. Sotheby’s head of contemporary art for Europe, Alex Branczik said that Banksy’s corruption of the paintings ‘spotlights one of the burning issues of the 21st century’.
The seascapes were created for display in the lobby of Banksy’s ‘Walled off Hotel’ in Bethlehem, which is both a functioning hotel and a political statement about the controversial barrier separating Israel from Palestinian territories. Opened in 2017, the hotel has ‘the worst view in the world’ according to Banksy as it overlooks the Israeli West Bank barrier. Guests can choose to stay in a variety of accommodation ranging from dormitories with bunk-beds to a presidential suite with a hot tub filled by water from a bullet-strafed water tank.
Banksy donated the three paintings to the charity Action around Bethlehem Children with Disability (ABCD). Their sale price far exceeded the estimate of £800,000-£1.2 million and all proceeds from the sale will go towards building a new acute stroke unit and purchasing children’s rehabilitation equipment for BASR hospital in Bethlehem.