On Thursday, during a sale in London, Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker unveiled a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that the house will offer for sale in its New York contemporary art evening sale on May 12. Titled Versus Medici (1982), the painting is expected to fetch a price of $35 million–$50 million. If the work reaches its low estimate, it will be among the most expensive works by the artist ever sold at auction.
The painting shows influence from Basquiat’s time in Modena, Italy, where he had his first solo show, at Galleria d’Arte Emilio Mazzoli in 1981. The title of the piece references the Renaissance-era Medici family, and it has some of the signature Basquiat motifs—a full skeletal figure, a crown, anatomical drawings and scrawled phrases in the background—that are coveted by collectors.
“In Versus Medici, Basquiat melds the political and art historical as he consciously stages a reckoning with the Westernized ideal of visual culture and was intent on mastering and commandeering the accepted ‘rules’ of art history in order to break them,” Grégoire Billault, Sotheby’s New York head of contemporary art, in a statement.
Painted when the artist was just 22 years old, it has remained in the same private collection since 1990 and has never been sold at auction. Prior to 1990, the work was previously owned by the late Belgian art collector Stephane Janssen, an early promoter of the CoBrA movement, who purchased it from Larry Gagosian during a studio visit with Basquiat in 1982. It was featured in the 2017 exhibition “Intuition” at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice.
Basquiat’s paintings from 1982 are the most valuable ones by him on the market, with nine of his most expensive works sold at auction made that year. The announcement follows Christie’s sale of Basquiat’s 1982 painting Warrior, from the collection of Aby Rosen, for $41.9 million on Tuesday in Hong Kong. That work has appreciated in value by 381 percent since its last sale, in 2012, where it made $8.7 million.