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Rare Basquiat ‘Skull' Painting Could Fetch More Than $50 Million at Auction

Source: Christie's
  • A rare skull painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat is being auctioned off by Christie's with an estimate of more than $50 million.
  • The painting will be the centerpiece of Christie's sale of 21st century art in May in New York.
  • The piece, "In this Case," is one of a trio of "skull" paintings Basquiat made. In 2017, another sold at a Sotheby's auction for $110 million.

In a sign that the art market is flush with cash, a rare skull painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat is being auctioned by Christie's with an estimate of more than $50 million.

The painting will be the centerpiece of Christie's sale of 21st century art in May in New York. Christie's 20th century and 21st century auctions will also feature a Pablo Picasso estimated to go for more than $50 million and other trophy works by Claude Monet, Mark Rothko and Vincent Van Gogh — a sign that lofty prices are enticing sellers to part with major works.

Christie's doesn't have an official estimate on the Basquiat work, called "In this Case," but the auction house is telling collectors upon request that the estimate is over $50 million. Dealers said it could go for twice that.

The piece is one of a trio of "skull" paintings Basquiat made. In 2017, another sold at a Sotheby's auction for $110 million. Dealers said "In this Case" — with its even more dramatic red and yellow color palette — could fetch more.

"As his final expression in the series, it is the most raw and visceral and emotionally charged of the three paintings, with Basquiat holding nothing back," said Ana Maria Celis, senior specialist and head of 21st century art at Christie's.

Basquiat, a former New York graffiti artist who died at age 27 in 1988, has quickly become a favorite among wealthy global collectors and museums, especially amid the growing awareness of racial justice and diversity issues. His "Warrior" painting sold at auction in Hong Kong last year for $42 million, making it the most expensive Western artwork ever sold at auction in Asia.

While Christie's won't comment on the identity of the seller, dealers say it is a European collector, and they expect bids from around the world.

"The appetite for Basquiat's works is global and has dramatically expanded in recent years, " Celis said.

Correction: A Basquiat painting sold for $110 million at a Sotheby's auction. An earlier story misstated where the auction was held.

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