Banksy artwork honouring British health workers fetches a record £16.75 million

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New Banksy artwork appears at Southampton hospital

A painting by the British street artist Banksy sold for a record £16.75 million ($23.1 million, 19.4 million euros) on Tuesday, with proceeds going to health charities

Game Changer, by the anonymous graffiti artist, appeared in a foyer at Southampton General Hospital during the first wave of the pandemic.

Christie’s said the hammer price of £14.4m for the 1m (3ft) x 1m work was a “world auction record” for a Banksy.

Including a buyer’s premium, the purchaser paid £16.8m.

Christie’s said it would be donating “a significant portion” of its premium meaning a total of “more than £16m” would be used to support health organisations and charities that work with the NHS, including Southampton Hospitals Charity.

‘Symbol of its time’ 

Christie’s said in a statement the painting was a departure from Banksy’s usual irreverent style and was instead “a personal tribute to those who continue to turn the tide of the pandemic”.

“As an artwork, however, it will remain forever a symbol of its time: a reminder of the world’s real game changers, and of the vital work they perform,” the international art seller said. 

The painting may also have a political subtext though, as it was donated shortly after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the public antibody tests could be a “Game changer” in the pandemic — only to have experts quickly pour cold water on the idea.

Spokeswoman Katharine Arnold said: “Banksy is an extraordinary artist who is a constant barometer of nationwide sentiment.

“With the perfect image of a little boy playing with his superhero doll, a nurse sporting the international Red Cross, he perfectly captured the essence of this moment in time.

“As we have turned our focus towards our families and those we love, we express our gratitude to the people who continue to fight on the frontline against COVID-19.”

When the artwork first appeared at Southampton Hospital, it was accompanied by a note which read: “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if it’s only black and white.”

David French, interim chief executive officer at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, said the “incredible gift” would help support staff “as they heal and recover” from the last 12 months.

“As a charitable gift it ensures our staff have a say in how money is spent to benefit them, our patients and our community and is a fantastic way to thank and reward them for the sacrifices they’ve made,” he said.

Game Changer was not Banksy’s only work reflecting the pandemic.

In the summer, the artist painted some trademark rats wearing face coverings on a tube train – which were later scrubbed off by cleaners who did not realise their significance.

Banksy also used the rats to present his own image of working from home.

Banksy had previously said the £9.9m received for his piece Devolved Parliament, showing the House of Commons overrun with chimpanzees, was the highest ever paid for one of his paintings.

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