Johns (b.1930) produced Flags I in an edition of 65, with seven artist’s proofs. Johns’ various iterations of the Stars and Stripes, both in paint and in print, are among his most sought-after works, both by private collectors and museums, and this is reflected in the high prices they have reached at auction in recent years.
This edition was made nearly 20 years after Johns first used the instantly familiar design in his work. Other impressions of this print have sold at auction in recent years, all for well over $1m (£770m).
The museum believes its artwork is valued at this level. Examples of auction results of other impressions of this work were at Christie’s New York in 2019 when it sold for a premium-inclusive $1.2m (£930,000), at Sotheby’s New York in 2018 when one sold for a premium-inclusive $1.6m and another at Christie’s New York in 2016 which reached a premium-inclusive $1.7m.
The impression of the work acquired by the British Museum – numbered 7/65 – had been owned by US collecting couple Johanna and Leslie Garfield since 1980 before being gifted to American Friends of the British Museum (AFBM). The AFBM is a publicly supported US organisation which aims to raise awareness of the museum’s work for Americans in the US and those living abroad.
It was loaned to the museum as one of the star objects of the 2017 exhibition The American Dream: pop to the present, which was the UK’s first major show to chart Modern and Contemporary American printmaking. That show is now touring and the print will return to the museum in due course.
Catherine Daunt, Hamish Parker curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the British Museum, said: “This is a hugely important print from Jasper Johns. It is beautiful, complex and technically a great achievement. We now have 16 works by Johns in the collection, all of which are outstanding in their own way, but visually this is undoubtedly the most spectacular. Johns’ treatment of the American flag epitomises his approach to art: create an interesting image and then stand back and allow the viewer to decide what it means.”
Flags I can be viewed in the British Museum's Collection online.