When a masterwork by Belgian surrealist René Magritte, considered as one of the most valuable works in private hands, goes up for auction for the first time this year, it is likely to sell for a record-breaking £45 million.
The “show-stopping” artwork, L’empire des lumières, portraying a town at night against a dazzling blue sky, will be the focus of an auction in London on March 2, according to Helena Newman, head of Sotheby’s Europe.
The muse and close friend Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet was acquainted to the artist by her father, Belgian surrealist collector Pierre Crowet, who commissioned the 114.5cm by 146cm painting in 1961. From 2009 till 2020, the family lent it to the Magritte Museum in Brussels.
If the artwork’s estimated price of $60 million (£45 million) is fulfilled, it will be the most expensive work by Magritte, whose most renowned painting is La trahison des images (The treachery of images) of a pipe that isn’t a pipe. It already has one of Europe’s highest estimations for a piece of art.
Crowet’s likeness may be seen in a number of Magritte paintings, including some from before the two met. “You see, I was already painting you before I knew you,” the artist informed her during their first encounter when she was 16: “Tu vois, je te peignais déjà avant de te connaître.” u).
In his favorite restaurant, Magritte played chess with Pierre Crowet and spent nights with him and his wife, Georgette, watching Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films.
He began work on L’empire des lumières in 1948, revisiting and extending his vision over time to leave behind 17 pieces, Magritte’s sole true effort to construct a “series” within his oeuvre.
Nelson Rockefeller purchased the initial version of the work, which is currently in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Menil Collection in Houston, and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.
The painting on display is Magritte’s widest horizontal rendition, depicting a suburban scene presumed to be a street near the Parc Josaphat in Brussels, where he lived in 1954. According to legend, the picture inspired a sequence in the 1973 film The Exorcist.
The artwork will be on display at Sotheby’s galleries in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, New York, and London before being auctioned.
“A masterpiece of twentieth-century art, L’empire des lumières unites the two most fundamental elements of daily life – day and night – on a paradoxical canvas,” Newman stated.
The cinematic picture, with its astounding magnitude, transports the spectator into Magritte’s eternal universe.
“Its immediacy and power encapsulate the ‘star quality’ that elevates Magritte to the top of the market’s most coveted artists.”
Crowet married Baron Roland Gillion, a Belgian industrialist, after winning the Belgian tennis championship in 1955. They gave a large portion of their art collection to Belgium’s Royal Museums of Fine Art.
The Pleasure Principle, which sold at Sotheby’s in November 2018 for $26.8 million, was Magritte’s most expensive painting till now.