A US$43.2m Magritte leads Christie's US$250m evening sales in London

On the second day of marquee spring sales in London (7 Mar), Christie's back-to-back 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale and The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale combined brought in £196 million (US$250 million), up 17% from last year. 

The first sale of the night, 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale, saw 70 out of 80 lots – seven were withdrawn beforehand – find new homes, representing a sell-through rate of 87%. In the second sale, only three of the 25 lots failed to sell, generating a sell-through rate of 88%. 

Headlining the evening sales was René Magritte's L'ami intime (The Intimate Friend) (1958), selling for £33.6 million (US$43.2 million). Records were set for two female artists: Jadé Fadojutimi and Allison Katz. 

Notably, around 25% of the lots on offer were backed by a guarantee, including the four works that sold above £10 million – though they were not necessarily sold to the guarantors.

Auctioneer Adrien Meyer wielded the gavel for the sale of Magritte's L'ami intime

The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale

Lot 108 | René Magritte (1898-1967) | L'ami intime (The Intimate Friend), Oil on canvas
Painted in January - February 1958
72.6 x 64.9 cm
Provenance (Consolidated by The Value):

  • Galerie Alexander Iolas, Paris & New York, by whom acquired directly from the artist in December 1958
  • Mario Tazzoli, Turin, by 1965
  • Max Wasserman, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, by 1969
  • Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 26 March 1980, lot 61 (Hammer price: £90,000)
  • Georges Marci, Switzerland, by whom acquired at the above sale
  • Gilbert & Lena Kaplan, New York, by whom acquired from the above in 1980

Estimate: £30,000,000 - 50,000,000
Hammer Price: £29,000,000
Sold: £33,660,000 (US$43.2 million)

Carrying the highest estimate of the night, Magritte's L'ami intime was opened on a starting bid of £22 million and attracted two interested buyers: a room bidder and a telephone bidder represented by Giovanna Bertazzoni (Vice Chairman, 20/21 Art Departments). 

After a two-minute bidding battle, Bertazzoni's client, with paddle number 7020, won the lot for a hammer price of £29 million. With fees, the final price was £33.6 million (US$43.2 million). 

The work last hit the auction block in 1980, when it was hammered on a bid of £90,000 at Sotheby's London – meaning the present result marks a 320-time increase in its hammer price over 44 years. 

Giovanna Bertazzoni won the lot for her client with paddle number 7020

René Magritte

Last publicly displayed at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels, the present L'ami intime portrays the enigmatic bowler-hatted man, Magritte's faceless "everyman" and one of the most iconic images of 20th-century art. 

Gazing out the window onto a mountainous landscape and a cloud-filled sky, he appears oblivious to the strange sight of a baguette and wine glass floating in mid-air behind him.  

One mainstream explanation for the meaning behind Magritte's totemic figure is that he functions as a symbol of the bourgeois and metropolitan ordinariness; his smart uniform and typically bourgeois attire indicate a mundane humanity. 

Like other members of his Surrealist circle in Brussels, Magritte chose to dress and live deliberately staidly and bourgeoisly, and the bowler hat was a key part of his conservative costume. Some others, therefore, interpret the motif as Magritte's self-image, though scholars and experts widely reject this saying, as Magritte had begun to multiply the figure into a banal collective since the 1950s. 

René Magritte | Le fils de l'homme (Son of Man) (1964) | 119 x 89 cm | Sold: US$5,392,500, Christie's New York (The Harry Torczyner sale), 1998

René Magritte | Le mois des vendanges (The month of the grape harvest) (1959) | 127.6 x 160 cm | Sold: £10,002,500, Christie's London, 2021

Gilbert Kaplan is widely recognized as an international symphony conductor

L’ami intime was acquired by Gilbert Kaplan and Lena shortly after the 1980 Sotheby's auction. It was last exhibited in 1998, at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels, in a retrospective of Magritte’s work.

Gilbert Kaplan founded the successful finance magazine Institutional Investor in his twenties, and in later life went on to become a highly respected scholar and conductor of the music of Mahler.

He and his wife Lena were also keen admirers and collectors of the art of Magritte – and in 1982, that admiration manifested itself in a catalogue raisonné of the Belgian’s graphic oeuvre, which Gilbert published and co-authored with Timothy Baum.

20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale

The other three lots that sold above £10 million were from the 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale, including Francis Bacon's Landscape near Malabata, Tangier (1963), David Hockney's early swimming pool painting California (1965), and Claude Monet's Matinée sur la Seine, temps net (1897). 

Lot 17 | Francis Bacon (1909-1992) | Landscape near Malabata, Tangier, Oil on canvas
Painted in 1963
198.1 x 144.8 cm

  • Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London
  • Roald Dahl Collection, Great Missenden
  • Patricia Neal Collection, Great Missenden and New York
  • Her sale, Sotheby’s New York, 2 May 1985, lot 58
  • Ivor Braka Collection, London
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000

Estimate: £15,000,000 - 20,000,000
Hammer Price: £16,800,000
Sold: £19,630,000 (US$25.1 million)

Once belonged to celebrated children's literature author Roald Dahl, Bacon's Landscape near Malabata, Tangier was last auctioned in 1985 when it set an artist record for Bacon at US$517,000. 

Unseen in the market for nearly four decades, the piece attracted at least five bidders on an opening bid of £10 million: two in the saleroom and three telephone bidders. After eight bids, the auctioneer brought the gavel down at £16.8 million, a bid offered by the room bidder with paddle number 195.

With fees, its final sum came to £19.6 million (US$25.1 million). 

Francis Bacon visited Peter Lacy in Tangier every summer from 1955 to 1961

Packed with the emotional intensity Bacon is celebrated for, the landscape depicts the final resting place of the artist’s lover Peter Lacy, whom he met in 1952 and hit it off almost immediately. 

Bacon recalled, "I'd never really fallen in love with anyone until then; he had this extraordinary physique – even his calves were beautiful. And he could be wonderful company."

Beneath this exterior, however, Lacy was a troubled man, a former pilot who had served during the Second World War. Both of them were tempestuous, volatile characters, and their intense relationship was fuelled by a turbulent mixture of passion, infatuation, violence and hysteria.

Bacon later lamented, "Being in love in that way, being absolutely physically obsessed by someone, is like an illness. It's like a disease, a disease so ghastly I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy." 

Francis Bacon | Study For Portrait of P.L. (1962) | Private Collection, Europe

Ever restless and dissatisfied with his life in London, Lacy moved to Tangier in 1955. While their affair had already reached boiling point, Bacon made frequent and extended trips to visit him every summer, and they continued their uneasy liaison abroad. 

Despite its liberal climate, the northern Moroccan city ultimately proved fatal to Lacy, who was in the grips of alcoholism. On 24 May 1962, the official opening day of his first retrospective, held at Tate Gallery in London, Bacon had sent Lacy a telegram in Tangier with news of the show's success. The answering telegram shattered him: Lacy was dead.

Trapped in the abyss of grief, Bacon chose to portray him as he remembered him. One famous posthumous painting of Lacy is Study for Portrait of P.L. (1962), which is now in a private European collection. 

As for this Landscape near Malabate, Tangier, the artist depicts the landscape where Lacy was laid to rest instead – it was a place he had undoubtedly visited with him and a site to which he would return after his death. 

Lot 24 | David Hockney (b. 1937) | California, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 1965 in London
168 x 198.8 cm

  • Kasmin Ltd., London
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1968

Estimate on request (In the region of £16,000,000 / US$20 million)
Hammer Price: £16,000,000
Sold: £18,710,000 (US$24 million)

One of Hockney's earliest pool paintings, California was hammered at £16 million against a starting bid of £10 million, selling for a final price with fees of £18.7 million (US$24 million) to the phone bidder with paddle number 803 via Joseph Braka, Junior Specialist at Post-War & Contemporary Art Department in London and the son of London art dealer Ivor Braka.

The swimming pool had been at the forefront of Hockney’s mind since landing in California in early 1964. As a young man growing up in the north of England, America had loomed large in his imagination: a place of sunshine, promise and possibility.

With the grey landscapes of post-war England far behind him, he recalls looking down from the plane to see "blue swimming pools all over", and was "more thrilled than I’ve ever been arriving at any other city". 

It occurred to Hockney that this idyllic, utopian place had never been truly represented in art. "There were no paintings of Los Angeles", he said. "People then didn’t even know what it looked like. I suddenly thought: 'My God, this place needs its Piranesi; Los Angeles could have a Piranesi, so here I am!'" 

David Hockney in 1965

David Hockney has been fascinated by the sun-drenched California

Close-up of California

Here, in California, two nude men lie on a flotation bed in a pool, their buttocks slightly paler than the rest of the body, showing the artist's attention to detail.

Its kaleidoscopic depiction of moving water lays the foundations for the techniques explored in later works of the same series, such as Peter Getting Out Of Nick’s Pool (1966) and Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972).

In 2018, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for a staggering US$90.3 million at Christie's New York, making Hockney the "most expensive living artist" at the time. 

Last year, Tate Modern in London held an art exhibition in collaboration with the YAGEO Foundation, the philanthropic branch of Taiwanese entrepreneur Pierre Chen's electronics company. The exhibition's centrepiece was Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), which hinted to the public that the billionaire had acquired the painting.

David Hockney | Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972)

David Hockney | Peter Getting Out Of Nick’s Pool (1966) 

Lot 15 | Claude Monet (1840-1926) | Matinée sur la Seine, temps net, Oil on canvas
Painted in Giverny in 1897
81.6 x 92.4 cm
Provenance (Consolidated by The Value):

  • Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist on 27 November 1901
  • Galerie Durand-Ruel, New York, transferred by the above in December 1901
  • Frederic Amory, Massachusetts, by whom acquired from the above on 28 March 1905
  • Anonymous sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 17 May 1978, lot 43 (US$330,000)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owners

Estimate: £12,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer Price: £12,250,000
Sold: £14,397,500 (US$18.5 million)

Last seen on the auction block in 1978 when it sold for US$330,000 to an American collector, Monet's Matinée sur la Seine, temps net was hammered at £12.2 million on an opening bid of £8 million. With fees, it sold for nearly £14.4 million (US$18.5 million) to the telephone bidder with paddle number 880, represented by Alex Rotter (Chairman, 20/21 Art Departments).

Early in his forties, Monet moved to Giverny, the village he called home from 1883 until his death in 1926. While located at the confluence of the River Seine and the Epte, it was unlike scores of other settlements dotted along the Seine, having remained untouched by encroaching modernization. 

Before getting fully immersed in the "Giverny Garden" – the horticultural oasis Monet carefully cultivated and the birthplace of his renowned Water Lillies series – in his first years in the village, Monet would set out with his canvases at dawn almost daily, walking over hills and through valleys, constantly seeking and painting fresh subjects. 

As writer Guy de Maupassant described, Monet was "not a painter actually, but a hunter"; he would stalk his landscape scenes, "lying in wait for the sun and shadows", only starting a canvas once the visual effects were to his liking.

Claude Monet

Edouard Manet | Monet Painting on His Studio Boat | Collection of Neue Pinakothek, Munich

For this Matinée sur la Seine, temps net, Monet chose a quiet, protected backwater where the Epte tributary fed into the Seine, rather than painting a wide-open expanse of the river, as he often had before. 

Between 1886 and 1887, the Impressionist master painted a total of 21 canvases on the same view, working from his famous bateau-atelier (studio-boat) in the middle of the river.

Across those canvases, Monet captures specific instants as the sun passes over the scene, from the first rays of light at dawn, to the full brilliance of the sun at mid-morning, and every nuanced moment in between.

Here, in the present lot, the sun has yet to fully rise. Deep purples blanket the foliage and the overhanging branches of the surrounding trees, which form sweeping arabesques that frame the pale sky. The gradually brightening light, a soft blue glows in contrast to the still-dark land. 

New Auction Records:

Lot 3 | Jadé Fadojutimi (b. 1993) | The Woven Warped Garden of Ponder, Acrylic and oil on canvas (Auction record for the artist)
Executed in 2021
200 x 300 cm

  • Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London
  • Private Collection
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above by the present owner)

Estimate: £400,000 - 600,000
Hammer Price: £1,250,000
Sold: £1,552,500

Lot 1 | Allison Katz (b. 1980) | Snowglobe, Acrylic and sand on canvas (Auction record for the artist)
Executed in 2018
175 x 125 cm

  • The Approach, London
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: £40,000 - 60,000
Hammer Price: £220,000
Sold: £277,200

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's London
Date: 7 March 2024

Sale: 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale
Number of Lots: 80
Sold: 70
Unsold: 10
Sale Rate: 87%
Sale Total: £137,699,300 (US$175 million)

Sale: The Art of The Surreal Evening Sale
Number of Lots: 25
Sold: 22
Unsold: 3
Sale Rate: 88%
Sale Total: £58,986,300 (US$75.1 million)