Lot 45
  • 45


500,000 - 700,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • Soothsayer
  • oil crayon on paper 
  • 40.6 by 29.5 cm. 16 by 11 5/8 in.
  • Executed in 1983.


Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1987)
Christie’s, London, 28 June 2002, Lot 376
Acquired from the above sale by Marc Jacobs


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the paper tonality is warmer and the colours more vibrant in the original. Condition: Please refer to the 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

The inimitable draughtsmanship of Jean-Michel Basquiat is, without question, the artist’s exquisite hallmark. Across wet and dry media alike, over the course of one of the most celebrated careers of the Twentieth Century, Basquiat’s esteemed style and panache materialises in a cascade of audacious colour and resolute mark-making – a confidence and mastery of craft that is none better demonstrated than in the present example, Soothsayer, executed in 1983. The marriage of text and image was characteristic to Basquiat’s poetics; a diverse aesthetic vocabulary that he inherited from the freeform jazz of Charlie 'Bird' Parker and Miles Davis, channelling the rhythm of Be-Bop in a heady fusion with the stylistic elements of graffiti art, Jean Dubuffet, Pablo Picasso and Cy Twombly. Basquiat’s fortune-teller – whose irradiating stare peers through a gossamer apparition – is a tragically fitting emblem of the artist’s career; a young genius whose unparalleled output and groundbreaking body of work would come to steer the course of art history before his untimely death at the age of 27 in 1988. Soothsayer is a poignant example of Basquiat’s exceptional style, an image that testifies to his raw talent and flair – harking back to his beginnings as a graffiti artist on the streets of New York – and emerges as a premonition of his meteoric rise to stardom and huge critical acclaim. Basquiat’s idiosyncratic line and brazen employment of text as a form of drawing is rooted in his early practice as a graffiti street poet. First appearing on the scene as SAMO© in 1976, Basquiat developed a signature manner that wittily synthesised social critique, subversive poetry, and hieroglyphic shorthand – a defining period in which the artist emerged on the Manhattan art scene as a disruptive presence. Garnering the attention of Andy Warhol, Bruno Bischofberger, and critic and curator Henry Geldzahler – who noted that “[Basquiat’s early work] consisted of conceptual, enigmatic combinations of words and symbols, executed with the curt simplicity of a late Roman inscription” – the iconography of SAMO© was a youthful, radical intervention, breaking with the ossified language of Minimalism and Conceptualism that had held sway since the 1960s (Henry Geldzahler cited in: Franklin Sirmans, ‘Primary Compositions’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Brooklyn Museum, Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks, 2015, p. 50). The energy and intensity of Basquiat’s 'Be-Bop' drawing aligned him with the Neo-Expressionism of Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente, and Georg Baselitz. However, the expressive piquancy of Basquiat’s drawing centres on the encyclopedic references that underlie and connect his practice, illustrated with the confidence and economy of a cultivated master, and annotated with the diagrammatical charm of a studied professor.

Littered with references to idols from as broad a field as Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, and Muhammad Ali, Basquiat’s drawings are rendered with a self-taught, expressionistic urgency that forms a unique tenet of the artist’s oeuvre. Soothsayer thus stands as an immaculate example of Basquiat’s formal trademarks – combining candid poetics with an illustrative bravura – exemplifying the iconography and mythology of the hero character that the artist frequently revisited. The motifs of stardom, aristocracy, and themes of mythology present across his complete body of work are doubtless bound to an autobiography that Basquiat illustrated in myriad self-portraits, drawings, poems, notebooks, and in the earliest SAMO© graffiti. Such works “further establish Basquiat’s association of sacral exceptionalism, martyrdom and heroism with the figure of the artist” (Leonhard Emmerling, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1960-1988; The Explosive Force of the Streets, Cologne 2003, p. 33).

Basquiat’s ability as an exceptionally skilled raconteur places him in the canonical descendancy of the artist-hero; the most recent in a history of mythmakers that could be said to include Caravaggio, Vincent van Gogh, and Jackson Pollock. The image of the fortune-teller in Soothsayer is a deeply significant icon of Basquiat’s career arc, therefore, an avatar of the artist’s own commitment to fulfilling his self-described prophecy. From his rise to prominence as SAMO© to his final works, the emblematic crown that adorns Basquiat’s extraordinary poems, drawings and paintings manifests as the artist’s inspired destiny. What reveals itself is the image of the artist as his own prophet – the soothsayer as a self-portrait. In this remarkable work of outstanding poignancy, Soothsayer is drawn with trademark virtuosity – a confidence and brevity that is exemplary of Basquiat’s unparalleled hand. Standing as a totem of the artist’s career, few works have such complex and meaningful intimations, described with all the energetic charisma that Basquiat is so revered for.