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Devolved Parliament, 2009


Devolved Parliament, 2009
Oil on canvas
250×420 cm (98 3/8 x 165 3/8 inches)
Signed and dated “09” on the reverse and variously inscribed on the stretcher
Sotheby’s London: 3 October 2019
GBP 9,879,500 / USD 13,590,000

Banksy vs. Bristol Museum, Bristol Museum, Bristol, 2009

 ‘You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist’

With its 4 meters width, the gigantic Devolved Parliament, in which chimpanzees replace politician in the House of Commons, Banksy’s largest known canvas. Despite being painted in 2009, many commentators have drawn comparisons to current-day politics, and the chaos witnessed in the House of Commons over Brexit.
“Banksy Is Giving His Painting of Chimpanzees Overrunning Parliament a Special Appearance to mark Brexit Day”
Artnet News, 29 March 2019, online.
It was first unveiled as part of the Banksy vs Bristol exhibit in 2009, and was lent to the Bristol Museum in March 2019, marking both the exhibit’s 10th anniversary and Britain’s original planned exit from the EU on 29 March.

“I made this 10 years ago. Bristol museum have just put it back on display to mark Brexit day. Laugh now, but one day no one will be in charge.”

Credit: TRT World
On 3 October 2019, Devolved Parliament surpassed its estimated price tag of GBP 1.5 million to GBP 2 million, with the auctioneer declaring “history is being made” at one point during the sale that was being streamed live. After more than 13 minutes bidding, Devolved Parliament sold to loud applause for a Hammer Price of GBP 8.5 million, giving a final price of GBP 9,879,500 (USD 13,590,000) including premium and fees.

‘Record price for a Banksy painting set at auction tonight
Shame I didn’t still own it’
Potent and poignant, bold and brash, Banksy’s monumental oil painting of the House of Commons offers a premonitory insight into the increasingly tumultuous face of politics in contemporary Britain. Spanning an impressive thirteen feet in length, this is the largest known canvas by the anonymous street artist whose subversive practice has granted him a reputation of infamy as much as world renown.
Press view in London on September 27, 2019, ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)
Bitingly satirical in nature, the present painting depicts the inner sanctum of British politics; yet instead of debating MPs, the House of Commons is here filled with chimpanzees in a scene of mayhem and madness. The work was executed a decade ago and first exhibited in the ground-breaking Banksy vs. Bristol Museum exhibition, which took place at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery in 2009, famously attracting over 300,000 visitors, a record for any museum exhibit in the UK.
Entitled Question Time at the time of the show, the painting has since been reworked by the artist and more recently retitled. Once glowing, the Commons’ lamps have been snuffed-out by Banksy, while the upturned banana of an ape in the foreground now faces downwards; atop these and other subtle adjustments, the painting also bears a new name: Devolved Parliament. Exhibited under this title, the present work returned to the spotlight in a timely exhibition at the Bristol Museum which debuted just prior to 29th March: the date originally intended to mark Britain’s exit from the European Union. So-termed Brexit Day, the repeated deferral of this date, most recently to 31st October, makes Banksy’s prophetic and sardonically humorous Devolved Parliament ever more pertinent.
Devolved Parliament, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
The chimpanzee has appeared as a recurring motif in Banksy’s oeuvre since 2002, when the artist produced a six-meter-long stenciled graffiti work entitled Laugh Now. The work depicts a row of subservient apes wearing aprons, some of which bear the inscription ‘Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge’. It has since become one of Banksy’s most iconic and widely disseminated images, making headlines in 2008 when the original artwork sold successfully at auction, breaking the record for the artist at the time.
An homage to this earlier work, Devolved Parliament presents the stark realization of this premonition. As Banksy wryly declared on his Instagram account upon the recent exhibition of Devolved Parliament ten years on from its execution: “Laugh now, but one day no-one will be in charge”. One can but hope the artist’s seemingly astute clairvoyance does not take us so far. Certainly, rendered on a grand scale which rivals the great History Paintings of the Neoclassical age, the present work points to the animalistic pandemonium of global politics in recent years.