Lot 8
  • 8


3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
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  • Jean-Michel Basquiat
  • Untitled (Head)
  • inscribed BASQ-0799 on the reverse
  • ink and oilstick on paper
  • 30 by 22 in. 76.2 by 55.9 cm.


Robert Miller Gallery, New York
Leo Malca, New York
Christie's New York, May 12, 2004, Lot 387 
Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris
Private Collection, Milan
Ben Brown Fine Arts, London 
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawings, November 1990, p. 40, illustrated in color
Santa Fe, Bellas Artes, Baziotes to Basquiat: 1950s to 1990s, August - September 1992
Coral Gables, Quintana Gallery, Jean-Michel Basquiat: 1980-1988, December 1996 - February 1997, pp. 52-53, illustrated in color
New York, Malca Fine Art, In Your Face, June - August 1997, p. 44, illustrated in color
New York, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, Embracing the Muse: Africa and African American Art, January - March 2004, p. 87, illustrated in color
Paris, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Jean-Michel Basquiat, October 2018 - January 2019, pp. 60-61, illustrated in color (in installation at Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1990), and p. 82, illustrated in color


Exh. Cat., Paris, Fondation Dina Verny-Musée Maillol, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Oeuvres sur papier, 1997, p. 164, illustrated in color (in installation at Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1990)
Galerie Enrico Navarra, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Paris, 1999, p. 169, illustrated in color, and pp. 360-361, illustrated in color (in installation at Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1990)
Exh. Cat., New York, Van de Weghe, Ltd., Jean-Michel Basquiat. Works on paper, 2007, p. 216, illustrated in color (in installation at Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1990)
Exh. Cat., New York, Acquavella Galleries, Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing: Works from the Schorr Family Collection, 2014, pp. 84-85, illustrated in color (in installation at Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1990)

Catalogue Note

Bursting forth in a fury of radiant color and ferocious mark making, Untitled (Head) from 1982 is a compelling testament to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s singular and hyper-individualized mastery of expressionistic portraiture. A paradigmatic example of the artist’s most iconic motif, the skull-like visage of the present work is utterly mesmerizing in its emotive intensity; fixing the viewer with the ferocious gaze of its yellow almond eyes, the face demands recognition of Basquiat’s instinctive abilities as one of the greatest draughtsman of the Twentieth Century. In its searing and totemic rendering of a head, Untitled (Head) numbers among a seminal group of intensely worked and re-worked portrayals of skeletal craniums that the young artist created as, at the start of 1982, he began his extraordinary ascent to the highest echelons of Contemporary art. Within this rarified corpus, the present work is remarkable for its large size, electrifying use of color, and exceptional diversity of mark-making; rendered in brilliant crimson and orange pigment overlaid with furious incisions of inky black, the frenzied intensity of Basquiat’s variegated strokes is contained only by the arresting confidence of his bold oilstick outline. As a testament to the importance of the 1982 head studies, at the time of Basquiat’s death in 1988, no fewer than twenty-seven of the studies remained in the artist’s personal collection. Two years later, these compelling drawings – including the present work – were presented in the seminal exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawings at Robert Miller Gallery in 1990 where, hung salon style upon a single wall, they served as irrefutable testament to the gravity and intent with which the artist approached his works on paper. Rendered with ferocious intensity, the strident strokes of Basquiat’s preferred oilstick resolve to reveal a figure that, by sheer painterly force alone, utterly refutes the two dimensionality of the page; rising wraithlike before us, the single head of Untitled recalls scholar Fred Hofmann’s description of the 1982 heads: “These figures are unsettling, leaving the viewer with the feeling that they exist in another realm. Peering out into our space, they are oracles conveying a message from another dimension.” (Fred Hoffman, The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York 2017, p. 79) Executed in the early months of 1982, Untitled (Head) exemplifies a selection of drawings that, in their haunting and unique renderings of skull-like heads, represent a pivotal moment within the young artist’s developing practice. Concentrated against the stark white of the paper, each of these free-floating heads independently stands as a remarkable work within Basquiat’s oeuvre; while most share the physiognomy of searing eyes and bared teeth which typify his iconic warrior figure, each sheet is irrefutably distinct, confronting the viewer with a compelling cast of fully realized personas. Describing the singular importance of the heads within Basquiat’s oeuvre in terms highly reminiscent of the present work, Phoebe Hoban reflects: “Start with the head. (He painted them obsessively). The Hair was a focal point… the dreadlocks, Basquiat’s own version of a crown… Next the eyes. There was that look… People said his eyes could eat through your face, see right through you, zap you like the x-ray vision of his comic book heroes.” (Phoebe Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, London, 1998, p. IX) Over the next six years, the single skull-like head of Untitled (Head) would prevail as the artist’s primary motif and key conceptual anchor, appearing in and dominating the majority of his best-known masterworks. In its scorching gaze, bared teeth, and fiercely described skeletal structure of black oilstick, the floating cranium of the present work expresses an immediate and arresting fury; its emotional intensity evidences one scholar’s description of Basquiat’s astute observation of psycho-spiritual states of being: "What drew Basquiat almost obsessively to the depiction of the human head was his fascination with the face as a passageway from exterior physical presence into the hidden realities of man’s psychological and mental realms…they not only peer out as if seeing, but also invite the viewer to penetrate within." (Exh. Cat., New York, Acquavella Galleries, Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing: Works from the Schorr Family Collection, 2014, p. 74) Brilliantly formulated in the artist’s intuitive and innovative psyche and then translated onto the paper surface, the sheer visual voltage of Untitled (Head) reveals the impassioned, almost compulsive intensity Basquiat brought to both his works on paper and to his larger practice. Far from inanimate, the charged lines achieve an intensely expressive power - Basquiat delivering a fusion of internal and external sensory experiences with the electrifying force of a live wire.

Executed in 1982, this work is accompanied by a copy of the original certificate of authenticity issued by the authentication committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.