Back in 2004, a stenciled image of a young girl releasing a red heart-shaped balloon appeared on a wall on London’s South Bank. It has become one of Banksy’s most celebrated and coveted creations, the stencil being repeated in an edition of 150 prints and 25 numbered paintings, as well as an unknown number of unique spray paintings in different sizes with variations, of which Sotheby’s $1.4 million painting was one.
That 40-inch-high example, “acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2006,” according to the Sotheby’s catalog, set a new auction high for a work solely created by Banksy. One of the smaller, 20-inch-high edition paintings of “Girl With Balloon” sold in March for 344,750 pounds, or about $480,000, at Bonhams in London, according to the Artnet Price Database. Mr. Andipa said that back in 2006 he was selling these smaller edition paintings for £30,000, or about $55,000 at the time.
There was also something strange about the video Banksy posted on Saturday on his Instagram page. Drawing 6.3 million views by Sunday morning, the video purported to show the artist secretly building a shredder into the painting “a few years ago.”
If that were the case, wouldn’t the battery in the shredder have had to have been replaced at some point? This, in turn, poses the question: Was Banksy himself the owner who entered this stenciled painting, which may or may not have been made and framed “years ago,” into the sale? Sotheby’s, like all international auction houses, does not reveal the identity of its sellers, unless specifically requested.
And what about the identity of the man in the salesroom who remotely activated the shredding device? Could he have been the elusive “graffiti guerrilla” himself?
In 2008, the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday identified Banksy as Robin Gunningham, a former private schoolboy from the Bristol area of western England. On Saturday, the Daily Mail noted the similarity between the person identified as Mr. Gunningham 10 years ago and a man taking a cell-phone video in the Sotheby’s salesroom on Friday. Another man, who was seen activating a remote-control mechanism, was pictured in a post on the private Instagram page of Caroline Lang, chairwoman of Sotheby’s Switzerland. He, too, was identified as Banksy, by Ms. Lang.