Banksy’s latest prank

Devolved Parliament by Banksy

An old Banksy painting has been re-daubed and is up for auction. Chris Carter reports

Sotheby’s must have been feeling jittery, says Jan Dalley in the Financial Times. A year after Banksy’s painting Girl With Balloon half-shredded itself before startled bidders in the auction room, Sotheby’s auctioned off another of the graffiti artist’s works yesterday. Originally titled Question Time, the 14-foot-wide painting depicts the House of Commons with chimpanzees perched on the famous green benches in various simian poses. The speaker looks on as a solitary ape scowls at the Opposition from the dispatch box. It proved an instant hit when it was exhibited at the Bristol Museum in 2009.

Many Banksy experts regard it as the finest work by the anonymous artist to come to auction, says Scott Reyburn in The New York Times. Sotheby’s gave it a pre-sale estimate of up to £2m. At that price, it would set a new record for Banksy. But Banksy isn’t interested in records. And when selling his artworks, nothing is ever as it seems.

Morons and their money

In 2011, Question Time was bought by the current seller. At some time since then, the painting was renamed Devolved Parliament. But the auction-catalogue note failed to mention any of the other differences from the work that was shown in 2009. Sotheby’s confirmed to The New York Times that it was the same painting, and, yes, there have been alterations. The removal of the two chandeliers is the most obvious. The room is now cast in a much more sombre light – a reference, perhaps, to the current “ape house” as it tears itself apart over Brexit. But look closer and you will see more subtle changes have been made. The banana in the hand of one chimpanzee that had been facing up, like a smile, has been turned upside down. Cue endless media speculation as to what Banksy has been up to.

It’s not surprising that Devolved Parliament has been endlessly pawed over given what happened the last time a Banksy was auctioned. And being pranked the last time did Sotheby’s and the buyer of Girl With Balloon no harm. The half-shredded painting, re-authenticated by Banksy as Love Is In The Bin, was, if anything, worth more shredded than it had been whole.

Perhaps Sotheby’s had been hoping for a repeat performance given Banksy’s well-known disdain for the snobby world of art collectors. For ironically, it is in his disdain that his appeal lies. Last week, Christie’s hosted an online sale of Banksy’s works, called “Banksy: I can’t believe you morons actually buy this sh*t” – a name Christie’s took from one of the lots showing an auctioneer in a crowded sales room. “Depending on whose side you take… [the title] either worked like a charm or was an utter failure,” says Eileen Kinsella on Artnet News. Buyers did exactly what “the artist derides them for” – they forked out £1.1m for 29 works by Banksy. Morons, Banksy may call them – but they are now morons with artworks from an artist who has never been more collectable.


Portrait of Michele Marullo Tarcaniota by Sandro Botticelli.The last Botticelli for $30m

Frieze London got underway yesterday. The art fair runs until Sunday in London’s Regent’s Park. Frieze Masters forms part of the fair, dealing with, as you might have guessed, Old Masters – as well as works by artists up to the late 20th century. The talk of the show this year is the portrait of Michele Marullo Tarcaniota by Florentine Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. Marullo was a soldier, who was “known for his military prowess as well as for his poetry and literary translations”, says David Sanderson in The Times. After Marullo drowned in 1500, his widow, the poet Alessandra Scala, is thought to have commissioned the portrait (pictured). The couple were later used as the basis for the main characters in George Eliot’s novel Romola.

A century ago the painting was snapped up from under the nose of the famous British art collector Joseph Duveen by the Cambó family and spirited away to Spain. From 2004 it was on loan to the Prado gallery in Madrid for 12 years and it is now being offered by Spanish collector Doña Helena Cambo de Guardans and her family through Trinity Fine Art. It is, says the gallery, the last Botticelli in private hands outside Italy. But aside from finding the minimum $30m to buy the painting, would-be buyers will have to negotiate with Spain for an export licence to bring it back to Britain for good.


Auctions

Going…

A scrap of paper bearing the signatures of The Beatles dating from just before they became famous is to be sold with Hansons Auctioneers in Derbyshire on 22 October. The unnamed seller was 16 years old when she and a group of friends braved the “bitterly cold” weather to see the band play at the Town Hall Ballroom in Whitchurch, Shropshire, on 19 January 1963. The Beatles had just released their single Please Please Me, but few people attended the gig due to wintery weather. The seller was able to spend “about 15 minutes” chatting with the band. “I remember John Lennon plonking away on the piano after the gig,” she says. “At the time I didn’t even know Ringo Starr’s name. They were all really nice to us.” On the same day, The Beatles played on ITV’s Thank Your Lucky Stars – a performance credited with catapulting the Fab Four to fame. The autographs are expected to fetch up to £3,000.

Gone…

BB King’s black Gibson ES-345 prototype guitar (pictured) has sold for $280,000 at Julien’s Auctions in California. Gibson presented the blues legend with the guitar to celebrate his 80th birthday in 2005. It was one of several guitars King named “Lucille” – the first being the guitar he ran back to save from a fire at a dance hall in 1949 that was started by two men fighting over a woman called Lucille, says The Guardian. The “Lucille” that went up for auction was King’s primary guitar played on tour during his later years. It was stolen in 2009, later turning up in a Las Vegas pawn shop. A collector bought it and returned the guitar to King after tracing its provenance. It had been given an upper estimate of $100,000. King died in 2015, aged 89, and the sale of items from his estate raised $1.3m in total.