A painting by René Magritte may fetch $64 million at an auction marking a century of surrealism

  • london
  • February 3, 2024
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A major work by surrealist painter René Magritte that hasn’t been shown in public for a quarter century could fetch 50 million pounds ($64 million) at auction next month.

Christie’s auction house announced Saturday that it will offer “L’ami intime” (The Intimate Friend) at a March 7 sale in London marking a century of the surrealist movement in art.

The painting includes several of the Belgian artist’s signature motifs, including a bowler-hatted man and fluffy white clouds on a blue sky. In this painting, completed in 1958, the man is shown from behind, facing out over a hilly landscape. A baguette and a wine glass hover in the foreground.

Olivier Camu, Christie’s deputy chairman for Impressionist and modern art, said the “highly poetic, highly dreamy” painting is among the handful of most important Magritte works in private hands. Last exhibited publicly in Brussels in 1998, it’s being auctioned for the first time since 1980, and has a pre-sale estimate of between 30 million and 50 million pounds ($38 million and $64 million).

This year marks the centenary of Andre Breton’s “Surrealist Manifesto,” which defined a revolutionary artistic movement characterized by unsettling juxtapositions and paradoxical statements — as in Magritte’s most famous work, a painting of a pipe titled “This is not a pipe.”

“Now it’s become usual to think of the subconscious, psychology, psychoanalysis — but they were the one who opened the doors,” Camu said.

Camu said Magritte, who died in 1967, has become the most “in-demand” of all the surrealists. Unlike the work of contemporaries such as Salvador Dali, there are few specific cultural or religious references to be found in his work.

“Magritte never explained anything,” Camu said — even the titles of his paintings were suggested by friends.

“There’s no sign of religion in Magritte ever, or particular history, or anything,” he said. “They are totally conceptual, clean, powerful, disturbing, wonderful, silent pictures. They are accessible to everybody.”

That claim is backed up by soaring prices for Magritte’s work in recent years, hitting a record 59.4 million pounds ($79.8 million at the time) for “L’empire des lumières” (The Empire of Light) at a Sotheby’s auction in 2022.

The work up for sale in March comes from the collection of the late Gilbert Kaplan — founder of the publication Institutional Investor — and his wife, Lena Kaplan.

The painting will be on display before the sale at Christie’s in Los Angeles Feb 3, 5 and 6, in New York Feb 9-14, in Hong Kong Feb 21-23 and in London March 1-7.