One of Banksy’s most famous sculptures, ‘The Drinker’, is
set to auction for the first time at Sotheby’s, 15 years after it was stolen
from the streets of London.

The sculpture is a parody of Rodin’s iconic work The Thinker
– except that instead of a figure sat lost in contemplation, it features a man
slumped over drunk with a traffic cone place on his head.

The auction house described the sculpture as “an act of
poignant parody, fine-art vandalism, and urban expression, [which] encapsulates
the raw immediacy of Banksy’s commanding appeal as artist, activist and rebel”.

It will now cross the auction block at Sotheby’s in London on November 19, with an estimate of £750,000 – £1 million ($968,000 – $1.29 million).

The Drinker (2004) by Banksy, estimated at £750,000 - £1 million (Image: Sotheby's)
The Drinker (2004) by Banksy, estimated at £750,000 – £1 million (Image: Sotheby’s)

The Drinker originally caught the attention of the art world
in 2004, when it appeared overnight near Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s West
End.

Standing at over two metres high and weighing more than
three tonnes, the sculpture was seated upon a large plinth bearing Banksy’s
signature – although it wasn’t bolted down to anything.

And soon after it first appeared, it was swiftly removed by
a gang of self-styled conceptual art thieves known as Art Kieda, led by guerrilla
artist AK47 – in reality a former porn star and football hooligan named Richard
Link.

A feud between Art Kieda and Banksy had originally been sparked
in the early 2000s, when Link bought an unsigned Banksy print and then tried to
get the artist to sign it through a mutual friend.

Banksy responded by refusing the request, and called Link a
“cheap northern bastard” who should have paid extra for a signed copy
instead.

The group then kidnapped The Drinker and held it hostage, claiming
they would burn the sculpture unless they received £5,000 or a signed Banksy
canvas for its safe return.

In return Banksy allegedly offered them £2 towards a can of
petrol, and told a Guardian journalist “…it’s easy kidnapping one of my
pieces – I’m sure the council would give them a round of applause…My only
regret is that I think the Drinker on fire is going to look a lot better than
my Drinker, which is annoying. But that’s my final offer.”

Despite the unpaid ransom Art Kieda didn’t destroy The
Drinker, and it remained sat in Link’s garden until 2006 when it was mysteriously
stolen once again, leaving just the traffic cone from the figure’s head.

The original Drinker sculpture then found its way back to
Banksy and his manager Steve Lazirides, and in 2008 was issued with a
certificate of authenticity by the artist’s own team Pest Control.

Link later created a reproduction of the sculpture and returned
it to the same spot in London – this time entitled ‘The Stinker’, complete with
the addition of a toilet seat.

The entire story of the (faintly ridiculous) feud and theft
was then told in a crowdfunded documentary entitled The Banksy Job, released in
2015.

The original sculpture was acquired by the present owner
directly from Lazirides in 2014, and will now be offered at auction for the
first time.

Given its storied history and the booming market for Banksy
works, it would be no surprise if The Drinker surpassed its high estimate of £1
million.  

Just last month his monumental 2009 canvas Devolved
Parliament smashed its estimate of £2 million to sell for £9.78 million,
setting a new world record price for a Banksy work at auction.



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