'Girl with Balloon', a Banksy screenprint in colours from 2004 from an edition of 600 – £132,000 at Forum Auctions.

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Forum Auctions’ (25% buyer’s premium) latest dedicated sale was a white glove affair with all 24 lots selling and 22 individual auction records set for the editions to which they belong.

Offered in the same week as a Banksy-funded boat began rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean, the auction benefited from the Bristol artist’s ever-growing fame.

London-based Forum has now gained a significant foothold in the Banksy market. The firm has advertised widely (taking a series of slots on the front page of the Financial Times) and has taken the decision to sell only works that are certified by Banksy’s authentication service Pest Control. In an area where reproductions and fakes abound this has helped build confidence.

Only Banksy

Forum’s Only Banksy sale on September 4 was its fifth auction dedicated to numbered editions by the artist. It raised a hammer total of £1.18m against a £842,000 pre-sale low estimate.

Chief executive and founder of Forum Auctions Stephan Ludwig said: “This sale again surpassed our expectations even though the market has been growing extremely strongly over the past nine months. We have seen rises of up to 100% [in this sector] since late 2019. The geography of buyers has also shifted more to Japan and Europe, whereas two years ago it was much more centred on the UK and US.”

This sale underlined the high rewards available for early investors. Three-quarters of the lots came from vendors who acquired the prints for under £1000 when they were first issued – meaning they received a minimum 22-fold return on the original price. In total 12 different vendors consigned works to the auction and Ludwig said one of them had been wanting to sell their prints in order to buy a home in France.


'Strawberry Donuts', a signed screenprint from an edition of 299 – £60,000 at Forum Auctions.

The hierarchy

Individual Banksy prints have a hierarchy on the market with the more famous images commanding the higher prices. Two of the most sought-after made the top prices at the Forum sale: Girl with Balloon and Rude Copper.

Banksy’s first-known image of Girl with Balloon was spray-painted on Waterloo Bridge in 2002, with further murals (sometimes variants) appearing later including on a shop wall in Shoreditch as well as on the West Bank barrier between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Most have now been covered-up or removed including the Waterloo Bridge original.

Famously, Banksy later made a spray paint and acrylic on canvas version that sold for £1.04m (including buyer’s premium) before spontaneously shredding itself during a Sotheby’s auction in October 2018. Arguably this has helped it to become the artist’s most recognisable image.

In terms of prints, an initial set of 25 Girl with Balloon signed prints were released in 2003, while further sets of 150 signed and 600 unsigned prints were released in 2004-5. The example at Forum’s current sale was one of the 600, and it made the highest price for this set so far.

A 2ft x 20in (70 x 50cm) screenprint published by Pictures on Walls, it was accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Pest Control. Estimated at £100,000-150,000, it was knocked down at £132,000.

While copies of the earlier edition, artist’s proofs or the signed edition can make more – the highest at a UK auction is £320,000 for one sold at Christie’s in September 2019 (source: Artprice by Artmarket) – the previous auction record for the unsigned edition of 600 was just under £100,000.

Also estimated at £100,000- 150,000 at Forum was Rude Copper, a screenprint in black from 2002 which was part of an edition of 250.

Although smaller than Girl with Balloon, measuring 16 x 23in (42 x 58cm), this print was signed and stamped with the red Banksy tag as issued and was ‘hand finished’ with yellow spray paint which added to its appeal. When it was first released, copies could be purchased at the time for £150. Here it was knocked down at £125,000 to a UK-based Banksy collector who was bidding online. The price was a record for this edition, surpassing the £75,000 bid at Forum in January for another copy (albeit with grey spray paint).

At least two works sold to buyers from further afield. Choose your weapon (Cool Grey), a signed screenprint from an edition of 100 released in 2010, was knocked down at £74,000 (estimate £50,000-70,000) to a European collector of urban art. The price was well above the £42,000 that copies made at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s in September 2019.

Strawberry Donuts, a signed screenprint from an edition of 299 released in 2009 sold at £60,000 (estimate £40,000-60,000) to ‘an American sports personality’.

Ludwig estimates that Forum currently occupies around one fifth of this lucrative niche market. “In 2019 we sold over 20% of all Banksy editions offered at auction worldwide and over a third offered in the UK (data source: Artnet).”