Lot 4
  • 4

Jean-Michel Basquiat

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 EUR
bidding is closed


  • Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • Head and Scapula
  • signed, titled and dated 1983 on the reverse
  • acrylic and oilstick on canvas
  • 198 x 117 cm; 77  15/16  x 46  1/19   in.
  • Executed in 1983.


Annina Nosei Gallery, New York 
Sale: Perrin, Royère, Lajeunesse, Versailles, Importants Tableaux Abstraits et Contemporains - Sculptures, 18 March 1990, lot 118
Collection of Alain & Candice Fraiberger


Fécamp, Palais Bénédictine; Joinville, Château du Grand Jardin, 50 années de peinture américaine, 24 June - 1 November 1994; catalogue, illustrated in colour
Paris, Les Amis français du Musée d'Israël, Le Musée d'un Soir, 5 - 16 June 2000, postcard of the work


Boisson Restauration Actualités, June 1994, n.p., illustrated
Demeures et Châteaux, July 1994, n.p., illustrated
Richard D. Marshall, Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Volume II, Paris, 1996, p. 84, no. 5, illustrated in colour
Richard D. Marshall, Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Volume II, Paris, 1996, p. 108, no. 5, illustrated in colour
Richard D. Marshall, Jean-Louis Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Volume II, Paris, 2000, p. 174, no. 5, illustrated in colour


The colours are fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although the overall tonaly in the original work is slightly deeper, warmer and more contrasted. Please refer to the Contemporary Art department for a professional condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1983 when Basquiat was at the height of his art at the age of only 23, Head and Scapula is doubtless one of the most emblematic and captivating paintings the artist ever made. Marked by the spontaneity which characterized already his graffiti at the end of the 1970s, the pictorial composition vibrates with the intensity and energy so often associated with the work of one of the greatest geniuses in the history of painting.

From the beginning of the 1980s, when minimal and conceptual art dominated the aesthetics of the American avant-garde, Basquiat introduced an irreversible break and became the leader of a new movement of neoexpressionist painting that came down to himself. Without abandoning drawing for all that, the young man accorded a growing place to painting at the beginning of 1981, combining pastel and acrylic on the canvas in more and more intense tones. Over the months, his technique became more refined and his works reached the height of their complexity as much in their themes as in their representations. As Head and Scapula masterfully illustrates, Basquiat began superposing several layers of paint that he would later cover. Sometimes he created pictorial elements no sooner to make them disappear. This alternation between transparency and erasure established as a stylistic method determined his creative process. Basquiat painted over his compositions and his pictorial elements, entirely or partially, in order to open up a second pictorial reality based on the unconscious. What Freud called "ça" in The Interpretation of Dreams and which gives the wild and vital force that emanates from Head and Scapula.

The elaboration of this technique goes hand in hand with Basquiat's progressive realization at the end of 1982 and throughout his career, of his black and Hispanic identity as well as his strong identification with historical or contemporary figures, as Richard D. Marshall rightly points out in his remarkable text Jean-Michel Basquiat et ses sujets (in Jean-Michel Basquiat, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris, 1996). This also explains how the artist was able to express a universe that was as vast as it was enigmatic, combining sacred voodoo mythology with the Bible, cartoons, advertisements and even Afro-American musical and boxing heroes. Because "All of Basquiat's force lies in his capacity to merge the images taken from the street, newspapers, television and the spiritualism of his Haitian legacy in order to place these two elements at the service of a marvelous intuitive understanding of language and modern painting." (Jeffrey Deitch, Ibid.)

All of Basquiat's work is resumed in this painting; the different layers of paint, the red outlines, the hieratic pout, the black man and all the themes relating to this subject, death. With a half bust portrait in three-quarter profile, of an almost classical composition and purity of gesture, Basquiat makes a masterpiece of a presence that has not been seen since Schiele and Matisse.