Banksy Is Selling Three Paintings About the Refugee Crisis to Raise More Than $1 Million for a Bethlehem Hospital

The works will be offered as part of Sotheby's "Rembrandt to Richter" auction.

Banksy, Mediterranean Sea View 2017, detail. The triptych is expected to sell for £800,000–1,200,000 (about $1 million–$1.5 million). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's London.
Banksy, Mediterranean Sea View 2017, detail. The triptych is expected to sell for £800,000–1,200,000 (about $1 million–$1.5 million). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's London.

A trio of found seascape paintings that Banksy reworked into a pointed response to the refugee crisis will go on sale at Sotheby’s London this week to raise money for a hospital in Bethlehem.

The triptych, called Mediterranean Sea View 2017, appears to be a set of traditional seascapes—until, looking closer, orange life jackets washed onto the shore come into view. The empty jackets symbolize the many European-bound migrants who drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

“Banksy corrupts three found oil paintings with his own witty reworkings to create something that, while posing as a 19th-century seascape, spotlights one of the burning issues of the 21st century,” said Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art for Europe, in a statement.

Donated by the artist himself, the canvases are estimated to sell for between £800,000 (about $1 million) and £1.2 million (about $1.5 million) in Sotheby’s “Rembrandt to Richter” evening sale on July 28.

Banksy is donating the proceeds of the sale at Sotheby’s of the triptych, Mediterranean Sea View 2017. Photo courtesy of Getty Images for Sotheby’s London.

“This triptych hangs in Sotheby’s galleries alongside works by some of history’s greatest landscape painters, including Bellotto, Van Goyen and Turner. Banksy’s work however stands alone for its potent political message,” added Branczik.

Refugees have been a recurring theme for Banksy, who has created a number of artworks critiquing France’s handling of its Calais refugee camp. A stenciled mural of Steve Jobs at the camp was a nod to the Apple founder’s father, a Syrian immigrant, while a Les Miserables-inspired design opposite the French embassy in London referenced the police’s use of tear gas to clear refugees from the camp.

Banksy also made several refugee-themed works for his 2015 dystopian theme park Dismaland, including the sculpture Dream Boat, raffled off to benefit the Help Refugees charity. Materials from the decommissioned attraction were later used to build shelters at the Calais camp.

Banksy's latest artwork in support of migrants in the Calais refugee camp is inspired by the musical Les Misérables. Photo courtesy of Banksy.

Banksy’s latest artwork in support of migrants in the Calais refugee camp is inspired by the musical Les Misérables. Photo courtesy of Banksy.

More recently, Banksy made waves at the 2019 Venice Biennale with a piece painted on the city’s canals of a child migrant shooting up a pink flare to attract rescuers.

Since their creation, the seascape paintings have hung above the fireplace of Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, in Jerusalem’s West Bank. (The fully functional hotel opened in May 2017 and prides itself on having “the worst view of any hotel in the world,” of Israel’s West Bank Separation Wall.) The proceeds will be put back into the community, to build a new acute stroke unit and to buy children’s rehabilitation equipment at the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation.

An actor dressed up as Queen Elizabeth and Palestinian children from the al-Aida refugee camp attend an event held by secretive British street artist Banksy to apologise for the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration on November 1, 2017 at his Walled-Off Hotel in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images.

An actor dressed up as Queen Elizabeth and Palestinian children from the al-Aida refugee camp attend an event held by Banksy to apologize for the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration on November 1, 2017 at his Walled-Off Hotel in Bethlehem. Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images.

This week’s auction isn’t Banksy’s first charitable donation of 2020. Inspired by the tireless work of health care professionals, the anonymous street artist donated a painting of a child playing with a superhero nurse doll to England’s Southampton General Hospital in May.

Currently on view at the hospital’s emergency room foyer—despite the best efforts of a would-be thief—the work, titled Game Changer, will be auctioned in the fall to benefit the National Health Service. With Banksy’s auction record standing at $12 million, experts predict it could bring in as much as $6 million.

Banksy's painting for the Southampton General Hospital called game changer (2020).

Banksy’s painting for the Southampton General Hospital called Game Changer (2020).

Other highlights of tomorrow’s “Rembrandt to Richter” sale at Sotheby’s include one of the last Rembrandt van Rijn self-portraits in private hands, rediscovered works by Peter Rubens and Frans Hals, and a previously unseen Pablo Picasso drawing of muse Marie-Thérèse Walter.


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