Jean-Michel Basquiat's untitled 1981 work
Jean-Michel Basquiat's untitled 1981 work

NEW YORK — An early work by Jean-Michel Basquiat could set an artist’s record in November, when it is expected to sell for about $20m, auction house Christie’s said on Tuesday.

The untitled 1981 work, which has been in a private collection for two decades and has been featured in virtually every major Basquiat retrospective, depicts a fisherman displaying his catch hanging at the end of a line. Christie’s estimates the painting will sell for about $20m, which along with its commission would bring the price to well above Basquiat’s auction record of $20.1m, set in June in London.

"Great works by Basquiat have become close to impossible to find in recent years," Loic Gouzer, international specialist of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, said in a statement.

"The market has been waiting a long time for a work of this calibre and freshness. Basquiat is increasingly being recognised as a grand master of postwar art alongside De Kooning, Warhol and Pollock," Mr Gouzer said. "We expect it to set a new record."

The auction house did not identify the seller but catalogues from recent exhibitions of the work identified him as French fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier.

Basquiat burst onto New York’s burgeoning art scene more than 30 years ago, and quickly drew attention and respect for his powerful, jarring and sometimes controversial canvases that drew heavily on his Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage. Basquiat, whose career was the subject of a feature film and a documentary, died in 1988 at the age of 27.

Mr Gouzer said that unlike most artists who win acclaim, "Basquiat created his best paintings at the beginning of his career. ‘Untitled 1981’ unites all the elements of energy, freedom and boldness that one looks for in Basquiat."

The painting will be sold on November 14 following public exhibitions scheduled for London, Paris and New York.

Reuters