Described as one of the artist’s most sought-after works, a masterpiece by the Belgian surrealist René Magritte is predicted to sell for £45million when it goes on auction for the very first time this year. The chair of Sotheby’s Europe, Helena Newman, has said that this “show-stopping” work, Magritte’s L’empire des lumières, which portrays a dimly-lit townhouse beneath a pastel-blue evening sky, will be the highlight of the upcoming auction on March 2nd.
The 1961 work, measuring 114.5cm by 146cm work, was painted especially for Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet, a close friend of Magritte’s, who was introduced to the Belgian painter by fellow surrealist Pierre Crowet. The painting was in the hands of the Magritte Museum in Brussels from 2009-2020.
If the painting does indeed fetch the estimated $60m (£45m) it is expected to, it would be the highest price ever paid for a Magritte work. His other works include the famous La Trahison Ies images (The Treachery of Images), a painting depicting a pipe that, famously, isn’t a pipe.
Crowet obviously made quite the impression on Magritte. Her likeness can be found in a variety of his works, including some he painted before the two had been formally introduced. When the artists met her for the first met, she was just 16. He is said to have told her: “Tu vois, je te peignais déjà avant de te connaître” (You see, I was already painting you before I knew you). When he wasn’t interrogating the deceptive nature of images, Magritte spent his time playing chess with Pierre Crowet at his favourite restaurant. In the evenings, he and his wife, Georgette, liked to watch Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton movies.
Magritte began work on L’empire des lumières in 1948, returning to it time and time again. When he was at last satisfied, he had made 17 different versions of the work, the first of which was purchased by none other than Normal Rockefeller. This particular painting is the largest horizontal version that Magritte completed, depicting a suburban street near Parc Josaphat in Brussels, where the famed artist lived in 1954. It is said that the image provided the inspiration for a scene in William Friedkin’s 1973 film The Exorcist.
Describing the work Helena Newman said: “A masterpiece of 20th-century art, L’empire des lumières brings together the two most fundamental elements of daily life – those of day and night – on to one paradoxical canvas. With its impressive scale, the cinematic painting draws the viewer into Magritte’s timeless world. “Its immediacy and power encapsulate the ‘star quality’ that places Magritte firmly among the pantheon of the market’s most sought-after artists.”