Recently, in a thrift store just outside the village of South River, Ontario, population roughly 1,100, a cost-conscious shopper spotted an engrossing little canvass among the household goods and hand-me-downs. The painting, roughly 25cm by 20cm, featured a silver featureless face, in profile, with a long, flowing red and blue locks set against a red background. At C$5 ($4), why not spend the money for so lovely a piece?
It was later the unnamed buyer discovered David Bowie’s signature on the reverse and took the work to Canadian auction house Cowley Abbott, who helped authenticate the work as a genuine with the help of Bowie specialist Andy Peters. The painting, D Head XLVI, was put up for auction with an estimate of C$9,000-C$12,000 ($7,300-$9,700). Hopefully bidders had taken their protein pills and had their helmets handy. By the end of the first day, online bids had surpassed the high estimate, and by 18 June, three days into the auction, the price went up to C$55,000 ($44,600)—or more than 10,000 times the purchase price. The previous auction record for a work by David Bowie was $27,500 made at Christie’s New York in 2018.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, blast off
The work, part of a series of 47 works of art Bowie created between 1995 and 1997 titled Dead Heads (or D Head), according to Cowley Abbott, ultimately sold for C$108,120. Sitters for each of the portraits ranged from band members, to friends and even Bowie himself, with each work given a sequential roman numeral, the auction house added. “Like many musicians, Bowie studied art and design as a young man, which would foster a love of fine art throughout his lifetime. He was also a passionate collector and painter, heavily influenced by the modernist art trends of the twentieth century; his paintings possess the stylistic influences of the German expressionists, Francis Bacon and the London School of painters,” Cowley Abbott says in a press release. Bowie was an eclectic, dedicated, art collector, once telling the New York Times: “art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own.”