Skip to content

Crowning Glory: Basquiat's Tribute to Heroes in 'Charles the First'

In this 1982 portrait by photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni, Jean-Michel stands in front of his painting, “Charles the First”, showcasing one of his most instantly recognizable motifs, the three-point crown, interpreted by the Guggenheim Bilbao as follows:

“Basquiat challenges Western histories by creating images that honor black men as kings and saints. With his signature recurring motif – the crown – the artist recognizes the majesty of his heroes: groundbreaking athletes, musicians and writers. Inspired by their accomplishments, Basquiat believed he was continuing the work of this noble lineage: he often depicts himself wearing the same crown in his self-portraits.

Basquiat’s crown is a changeable symbol. It is sometimes a halo and sometimes a crown of thorns, as the artist emphasizes the martyrdom often involved with sainthood. For Basquiat, these heroes and saints are warriors – sometimes rendered triumphant, their arms raised in victory.”

Love this artwork? Shop the limited series, 1000 piece puzzle featuring Charles the First (1982)

Photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni (1982)

Artwork: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Charles the First (1982)

Go to top Top