Never-Before Sold Artwork by René Magritte Estimated to Shatter Record at $60 Million
A classic Surrealist painting by René Magritte will go under the hammer for the first time since its creation in 1961. L’empire des lumières (The Empire of Light) belongs to a series of similar artworks but has never been sold before. It is estimated to sell for over USD 60 million in an upcoming Sotheby’s auction. It may surpass the record currently held by the artist for another long-hidden artwork, Le Principe du Plaisir (The Pleasure Principle), which entered the auction market in 2018.
Since its creation, L’empire des lumières has always been in the possession of Anne-Marie Crowet Gillion, the artist’s long-term muse, for whom the painting was created. Magritte shared a special camaraderie with Pierre Crowet, an art patron, Belgian Surrealist collector, and Anne-Marie’s parent. Magritte created several paintings for the family’s collection.
According to Sotheby’s, the work is part of a series of 17 paintings known as L’empire des lumières. The series saw high demand after one of the works appeared in the 1954 Venice Biennale. Since most of the pieces were ultimately purchased by Peggy Guggenheim, Magritte created the additional pieces for those who lost out in that bid.
“[The painting’s] immediacy and power encapsulate the ‘star quality’ that places Magritte firmly among the pantheon of the market’s most sought-after artists. We could not be more thrilled to start the new year by presenting this show-stopping work in London, where it represents a new benchmark both for the artist and the global art market,” said Helena Newman, Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and Worldwide Head of Impressionist & Modern Art, about the painting.
The same series has also inspired landscapes in iconic horror movies like The Exorcist. William Friedkin, the film’s director, exclaimed how the painting possessed surreal yet realistic aesthetic qualities that influenced his cinematography. This immersive quality is very typical of Magritte’s body of work. Despite being recognized as the master of Surrealist paintings, Magritte often used realistic elements to convey the message’s mystery.
Several René Magritte works have been keeping the art world on its toes recently. Another one of the artist’s long-hidden artworks, titled Torse nu dans les nuages, hit the market in December of 2021. The painting pictures a truncated torso surrounded by surreal white puffy clouds. Magritte completed this artwork around 1937, when Surrealism was at its peak. It sold at the top of its estimate for $9.98 million. To date, a total of five Magritte artworks have earned over $20 million. An earlier painting, Le principe du plaisir, leads the list at $26.8 million.
Prior to Sotheby’s London auction on March 3, 2022, the painting will be exhibited at the auction house’s offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Hong Kong. Interested bidders can head to Sotheby’s for more information.