Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anti-Segregation Painting “Jim Crow” Sold for US$17.6m

At Christie’s Paris, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s anti-segregation painting “Jim Crow” was sold for €15m (buyer’s premium included). The painting speaks not only to the artist’s own history but also to the vast populations from the American South who suffered under the oppressive "Jim Crow Laws" which controlled their everyday lives for almost a century.

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s New York, the son of Haitian and Puerto Rican immigrants, Basquiat had experienced the same racial inequalities that were experienced by many of his generation. Even though his career skyrocketed, he was always conscious of the discrimination that still plagued him.

Racism is one of the important subject matters in Basquiat’s works

During the late 19th century after the reconstruction period, "Jim Crow Laws" that enforced racial segregation were enacted by white Democratic-dominated state legislatures. They were in enforcement until 1965.  "Jim Crow Laws" were named after a fictional character “Jim Crow”—a caricature of a clumsy dimwitted black slave performed by white actor Thomas D. Rice in blackface.

Segregation of drinking fountains for whites and blacks under  "Jim Crow Laws"

Segregation of public transportation

”White Ladies Only” written on the door

"Jim Crow Laws" restricted a person’s civil rights, dominating every part of their daily lives for large sections of the American South. They required the segregation of public places, schools, and public transportation, as well as the separation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and blacks. The services and facilities reserved for African-Americans were almost always of lower quality than those reserved for whites.

American biographical drama film “Hidden Figures” tells the true story of three unknown heroes serving as the brains in NASA during the Space Race. They were treated unequally and did not get the recognition they deserved because of their African-American race. The leading character had to rush between the white and black sections to use a segregated toilet since she was not allowed to use the same toilet as whites.

A black student pickets outside Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina, in support of the lunch counter sit-in taking place inside. A white counter-demonstrator keeps in step with him.

Demonstration against “Jim Crow Law”

Blacks were not the only victims of the racial segregation. The laws also barred other racial and ethnic groups including Latin Americans and Asians. Miscegenation law (nowadays more commonly referred to as interracial marriage) was enacted to ban the marriage of whites and non-white groups. Coloured children and white children were prohibited from attending the same school.

In Basquiat’s "Jim Crow", The almost featureless face is dominated by two demonic eyes, glowing with the red outline of Basquiat’s oil stick crayon. This substantial head sits atop of a strikingly withered body. The phrase “Jim Crow” was painted at the top centre in the painting.

Mississippi River

Behind this figure flows a ribbon of blue and white, indicating the waters of the mighty Mississippi River, the greatest river in the continental United States and a natural barrier that divides the eastern and western sections of the country. As if to indicate the cultural and spiritual importance of this natural phenomenon, Basquiat spells it out in large golden letters and repeated it over a dozen times throughout the composition.


Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). “Jim Crow”.

Lot no.: 14B
Created in: 1986
Size: 205.3 x 244 x 4cm

  • Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
  • Collection Olivier Stahel, Saint-Moritz
  • Vente anonyme, Christie's, Londres, 3 décembre 1992, lot 65
  • Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris
  • Acquis auprès de celle-ci en 1995

Estimate Upon Request
Hammer price: €13,200,000
Price realized: €15,007,500 (US$17.6m)


Auction details

Auction house: Christie’s Paris
Sale: Regards Croisés Collection Jean-François & Marie Aline Prat
Auction date: 2017/10/20