By the Numbers: A Breakdown of Results from Christie’s Art of the Surreal Evening Sale, March 2024 

Let the numbers tell the story. 

Auctioneer Veronica Scarpati at Christie's Art of the Surreal Evening Sale in London. Photo: Courtesy of Christie's.

Christie’s Art of the Surreal sale followed immediately after the auction house’s £137.7 million ($174.8 million) 20th/21st Century sale in London on March 7. At 25 lots, it was a fairly swift event but, in relative terms, also the strongest sale of the spring season in the British capital, bringing in £58.9 million ($74.9 million). 

Three lots in the second half of the sale failed to sell in quick succession, among them works by Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, and Gustave Van de Woestyne. However, half of all the material on offer (13 lots) hammered at or above the presale estimate, yielding an 88 percent sell-through rate.

Also buoying the bottom line is the fact that six guaranteed lots represented 80 percent of the presale low estimate. This included René Magritte’s L’ami intime, which hammered just below its low estimate at £29 million—or 58 percent of the hammer total.

Read on for more stats behind the sale…

A painting of a man with his back turned to the viewer, facing clouds,in a bowler hat with a baguette and a wine glass, by Rene Magritte.

René Magritte, L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend), (1958). Photo: Courtesy of the Gilbert and Lena Kaplan Collection and Christie’s London.

Total Sales After Fees: £58.9 million ($74.9 million) 

Total Sales of Equivalent Sale Last Year: £38.9 million ($49.4 million) 

Hammer Total: £49.5 million ($62.9 million) 

Top Seller: René Magritte’s L’ami intime (1958), £33.7 million ($42.8 million) 

Lots on Offer: 25 

Lots Withdrawn: 0 

Lots Sold: 22 

Lots Bought In: 3 

Sell-through Rate: 88 percent 

Presale Low Estimate: £48 million 

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate: +£14.9 million ($18.9 million) 

Lots Guaranteed: 6 

Lots With House Guarantees: 0 

Lots With Third-Party Guarantees: 6 

Total Low Estimate of Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: £38.5 million ($50 million) (80 percent of total presale low estimate) 

Quote of the Night: “Take me to a million,” said auctioneer Adrien Meyer as he coaxed bids for the first lot of the sale, Magritte’s Le principe d’Archimède. His request was met: The painting sold for £1.5 million ($1.9 million), including fees, more than double its high estimate. As Colin Gleadell points out in his report of the sale, this was a substantial profit for the seller, who bought it in 2003 for $186,700. It largely set the tone for the rest of the sale as well—Gleadell also notes that half of the top 10 lots were by Magritte.  

Lasting Memory: Speaking of Magritte, at the end of the sale, bidding was reopened for the second lot, which was, you guessed it, a Magritte. The artist’s L’évidence éternelle: genoux had originally been bought in with no bids at £380,000. But clearly whoever was expected to be bidding on this lot finally showed up to the party and, after a quick volley, the work sold for £529,200 ($672,084), bringing the sale to a satisfied close. 

Parting Shot: Gleadell recognized Man Ray’s Portrait (Patti Cadby Birch) (1942) as it hit the auction block. It had been offered at Christie’s Paris last year with a guarantee, but it failed to sell with an €800,000 ($875,000) low estimate. Christie’s re-offered it in this sale at the lower price of £350,000 ($444,500) but it flopped yet again. Keep your eyes peeled for where and when this one resurfaces.  

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