Christie’s upcoming The Art of Surreal Evening Sale in London will be held on 27 February, led by a group of paintings by Belgian Surrealist artist René Magritte (1898-1967). The centrepiece of the sale is the artist’s 1964 painting Le lieu commun, estimated at £15m-25m. Here are the five Magritte paintings that highlight the sale.
1. Le lieu commun (1964) ｜ Estimate: £15,000,000-25,000,000
Le lieu commun by René Magritte has never previously offered at auction. It is billed by the auction house as the most important painting of a bowler-hatted man by René Magritte to come to market since Le fils de l’homme in 1998. Measuring 100 x 81 cm, Le lieu commun depicts a single figure from two viewpoints — or possibly two identical-looking figures — in a surreal forest setting.
Le fils de l’homme (1964)
L’homme au chapeau melon (1964)
It is one of the four works from 1964 featuring a bowler-hatted man that mark the culmination of this theme in Magritte’s work. The other three include La grande guerre, L’homme au chapeau melon and Le fils de l’homme. While each of these three works features an apple or white dove in front of the face that wholly obscures our view, Le lieu commun, by contrast, is a rare example of Magritte showing the full face of his bowler-hatted man.
Magritte used the image of a bowler-hatted man in several of his paintings, and these might well be said to be self-portraits. Magritte lived a quiet, decidedly ordinary life and often posed for photographs in such a hat.
2. Le pain quotidien (1942)｜Estimate: : £2,000,000 - 3,000,000
Le pain quotidien, painted by the artist in 1943 during the dark days of the German Occupation of Belgium, is a painting steeped in all the mystery, enigma and silence that has come to define Magritte’s work of this period. It depicts Magritte’s enigmatic female nude floating against a backdrop of clouds.
‘A woman’s body floating above a town was a favourable substitute for the angels who never appeared to me. I found it very salutary to see the Virgin Mary in a state of undress and I showed her in this new guise,’ explained Magritte.
Le souvenir determinant (1942)
Le pain quotidien is one of two paintings from this period that feature the same theatrical, repoussoir device of a cave that leads the viewer’s eye to an endless, expansive, cloud-filled sky. Another painting, Le souvenir determinant, features not the same floating female figure amidst this soaring panorama, but a single tree growing amidst a rocky terrain.
3. La belle captive (1931) ｜Estimate: £2,000,000 - 3,000,000
In La belle captive (The Fair Captive), René Magritte presented the image of a painted canvas standing on an easel and appearing to depict the exact same scene that its presence within the picture seems to obscure. In the painting, Magritte used his signature picture-within-a-picture motif, one of his familiar devices throughout the rest of his career.
The whole of nature that is being depicted in this landscape painting also appears to suggest the idea that what we call ‘reality’ itself is nothing more than an artifice or a mere construct of our limited perception.
4. Composition on a Sea Shore (1935-36) ｜Estimate: £2,000,000 - 3,000,000
In many of Magritte’s compositions, objects are undergoing a transformation. For example, Composition on a Sea Shore depicts three incongruous and impossible objects are positioned amidst a sun-soaked beach.
Magritte painted Composition on a Sea Shore in 1935-1936, a period of intense activity both in the studio and out of it. During this period, the artist was gaining international recognition and his pictures were being exhibited to an increasingly broad audience. It was during this time that Magritte had made a significant development in his art, creating a new means of juxtaposing objects which presented his Surreal 'solutions' to the problems posed by the objects in the real world around us.
5. Le monde poétique II (1937)｜Estimate: £1,500,000 - 2,500,000
In Le monde poétique II, Magritte depicted the human eyeball, with its connecting optical nerve, disembodied from its owner’s skull, as if it were the monstrous, all-seeing brain of some serpentine creature.
This roving eye becomes a metaphor for our mind in the world as we navigate the mysteries of existence – in Magritte’s imagery, the curtains of illusion, the sharp pyramidal spires of life’s painful difficulties, ominously set before a rent and tattered sky.
René Magritte (1898-1967). Le lieu commun
Lot no.: 108
Painted in: 1964
Size: 100 x 81 cm
- Gustave J. Nellens, Knokke, by whom commissioned from the artist, in 1964.
- Fuji Museum, Tokyo.
- Private collection, Asia, by 1984.
- Private collection, Asia, by whom acquired from the above, in 2013.
René Magritte (1898-1967). Le pain quotidien
Lot no.: 105
Painted in: 1942
Size: 91.6 x 69.8 cm
- Jan Van Haelen, Brussels, by 1943, and whom acquired directly from the artist, and from whom stolen in 1968.
- Jake & Nancy B. Hamon, Dallas, by the early 1970s.
- Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, a gift from the above, in 2016.
- Restituted to the heirs of Jan Van Haelen from the above, in 2018.
Estimate: £2,000,000 - 3,000,000
René Magritte (1898-1967). La belle captive
Lot no.: 112
Painted in 1931
Size: 38.5 x 55.5cm
- Gérard (Geert) van Bruaene, Brussels.
- Joseph Capuano, London, by whom acquired in Brussels in the 1930s (probably from the above), until the early 1970s.
- Marlborough Fine Art, London.
Private collection, by whom acquired from the above in 1972.
Estimate: £2,000,000 - 3,000,000
René Magritte (1898-1967). Composition on a Sea Shore
Lot no.: 116
Painted in: 1935-36
Size: 54.4 x 73.5cm
- Private collection, Belgium, a gift from the artist circa 1936, and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, London, 1 December 1987, lot 152a.
- Private collection, by whom acquired circa 1988; sale, Christie's, London, 24 June 2008, lot 73.
- Private collection, New York, by whom acquired at the above sale.
- Private collection, California, by whom acquired from the above in 2014.
Estimate: £2,000,000 - 3,000,000
René Magritte (1898-1967). Le monde poétique II
Lot no.: 103
Painted in: April - May 1937
- Edward James, London, by whom acquired directly from the artist in 1937.
- Acquavella Gallery, New York, by whom acquired from the above, in December 1979.
- Daniel Malingue, Paris, by whom acquired from the above.
- Private collection, London, by whom acquired from the above; sale, Christie's, London, 27 June 1995, lot 191.
- Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Estimate: £1,500,000 - GBP 2,500,000
Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: The Art of The Surreal Evening Sale
Date: 27 February 2019｜7pm
Lots offered: 34