Banksy’s tribute painting to the NHS has sold at auction for a staggering £16.8 million with premium. The UK health service will receive almost all the money from Christie’s charitable sale, which set a new auction record for the anonymous graffiti artist.
‘Game Changer’ had been mysteriously dropped off at Southampton Hospital in May 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Attached to the delivery was a simple note which stated: “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if it’s only black and white.” The small oil on canvas painting depicts a young boy playing with a caped superhero nurse, as his Batman and Spider-Man dolls lay discarded in a bin.
Seasoned Christie’s auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen described Banksy’s donation to the NHS as “an incredible gesture” and declared the sale a “historic moment“. As part of Christie’s successful leap into the digital world, the hybrid live-streamed auction on 23 March 2021 included 20th-century, Surrealist, and Basquiat art.
From the very start the pre-sale estimate of £2.5 million to £3.5 million for Banksy’s painting was swiftly surpassed, but momentum slowed around £5 million. Then a bidding war erupted between a phone bidder with Christie’s specialist Tessa Lord and an online bidder. The hammer finally favoured Lord’s client at a price of £14.8 million.
“This incredible gift will be invaluable in helping us to focus on promoting and protecting the welfare of our staff as they heal and recover from the last year,” explained David French, interim chief executive officer of University Hospital Southampton Trust. “As a charitable gift it ensures our staff have a say in how the money is spent to benefit them, our patients and our community and is a fantastic way to thank and reward them for the sacrifices they’ve made.”
Highlights from the sale also included a Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) self-portrait that took in £30.5 million, a modest Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) painting of his lover Marie-Therese Walter that achieved £14.6 million, and a self-portrait by Amoako Boafo that went for seven times more than its £80,000 high estimate, selling for £500,000.
Banksy’s previous auction record was set by an enormous painting of chimpanzees in the House of Commons chamber, titled ‘Devolved Parliament’, which sold for £9.9 million at Sotheby’s in 2019.