Has Banksy Altered His Famed Painting of British Parliamentarians as Chimps? Either Way, It Could Fetch $2.5 Million at Auction Next Month

It's tempting to believe the artist may be planning another auction stunt.

Banksy, Devolved Parliament (2009). Courtesy of the artist.

A painting by Banksy of bickering chimpanzees in British Parliament, created seven years before the UK voted to withdraw from the European Union, is up for sale at Sotheby’s in October—and the auction house hopes to capitalize on the artist’s seeming prescience about the turmoil of British politics.

The auction house announced this week that it will put the painting on the block at an evening sale in London on October 3. It estimates that the work could sell for up to $2.5 million—which would be an auction record for a work by the anonymous artist. 

But Banksy-heads online have pointed out that the artist may have tinkered with the work in the years since it was shown at his 2009 exhibition, “Banksy vs. Bristol Museum.”

A top, the picture as it appeared 2009; below, how it looks today.

The original painting, known as Question Time when it was first displayed, depicted the House of Commons illuminated by two glowing chandeliers. In the version for sale by Sotheby’s, now called Devolved Parliament, the lights are gone. What’s more, a chimpanzee in the left foreground holds an upturned banana in the original picture. Now, the banana faces the other way, like a frown.

On the left, the current version of the Banksy work; on the right, how it appeared previously.

On the left, the current version of the Banksy work; on the right, how it appeared previously.

When reached for comment, Sotheby’s confirmed that the painting going up for auction is indeed the same work as the one shown in Bristol a decade ago. A representative for the company told the New York Times that the changes were made by the artist himself, though the timeline for the alterations and the motives behind them are unclear. (The painting was purchased directly from the artist by a collector in 2011.) Sotheby’s did not mention the changes in its catalogue for the sale.

Surface-level revisions of paintings are made by artists all the time. Still, given Banksy’s high-profile stunt at Sotheby’s last year, when he orchestrated the self-destruction of a work of his that had just sold for $1.4 million, it’s tempting to speculate that he may have something up his sleeve again.

Devolved Parliament was again displayed at the Bristol Museum earlier this year. Its current owner lent the work to the institution to mark the 10-year anniversary of Banky’s 2009 survey as well as “Brexit Day,” the original deadline for Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“Laugh now, but one day no-one will be in charge,” the artist said on Instagram at the time.

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