A Banksy sculpture has been withdrawn from a Sotheby’s auction after another artist, who had stolen the work from its original resting place, claimed to be its rightful owner. The work in question,The Drinker (2004)—a play on Rodin’s 1903 The Thinker—features a man in an apparent drunken stupor, wearing an orange traffic cone on his head. It was expected to fetch up to £1 million ($1.2 million) at the auction house’s Contemporary Curated Sale in London on Tuesday.
Andy Link originally stole The Drinker from its perch in a central London square in 2004, but about three years later the sculpture was stolen back from Link’s garden, most likely by associates of Banksy’s then-dealer, Steve Lazarides. It was then acquired by its current owner in 2014, through Lazarides. (While it was still in Link’s possession, he contacted Banksy to offer the sculpture’s return for a ransom of around £5,000, but Banksy didn’t give in, offering Link only “£2 towards a can of petrol” to set the statue on fire.)
Link claimed that, since he had registered both his original robbery of the sculpture and the subsequent theft from his garden with the police, he had legal ownership over the work. Sotheby’s contested his claim, saying the consignor had every right to auction off the work, which had been verified by Banksy’s authenticating agency Pest Control. According to The Art Newspaper, Link then received a call early Tuesday morning, around an hour before the auction was set to begin, informing him that the work had been withdrawn, but that the withdrawal was in no way related to his claim.
On Monday, Sotheby’s told Artsy, “We are satisfied that the consignor has the right to sell the work and as part of our pre-sale due diligence we consulted both the Metropolitan Police and the Art Loss Register.” But on Tuesday, the auction house told TAN that the lot was “withdrawn in agreement with the consignor.”