The Appraisal: 5 Reasons Why Sotheby’s Is Betting Big on René Magritte
On the heels of Sotheby's $60 million consignment, we took a peek at what's been happening in the market for the Belgian Surrealist.
Last week, Sotheby’s revealed a top lot for its Modern and contemporary evening sale in London on March 3: a fresh-to-market René Magritte titled L’empire des lumières (1961). The house has gone full throttle on its estimate for the work, predicting it will fetch “in excess of $60 million”—more than double the existing record for a work by the Belgian Modernist.
We jumped into the Price Database to explore what’s been cooking in the market for the giant of Surrealism of late.
Auction record: $26.8 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2018
Magritte’s Performance in 2021
Lots sold: 101
Bought in: 22
Average sale price: $938,157
Mean estimate: $803,452
Total sales: $94,753,808
Top painting price: $17.3 million
Lowest painting price: $41,597
Lowest overall price: $725 (for one of an edition of 300)
- Pre-pandemic heat. The Magritte market was on the rise right up until the pandemic hit. The artist’s auction record of $26.8 million was set in 2018, and his total sales peaked in 2019, at $127.7 million.
- Steady supply. The number of Magritte works offered at auction over the past 15 years has remained fairly consistent, generally hovering between 100 and 120 annually.
- Not so lockdown-proof. A grand total of $94.7 million was spent on Magritte at auction around the world in 2021—around 11 percent less than in 2020, and down more than 25 percent down from the market’s 2019 peak.
- Solid performance. Last year, 64 percent of Magritte’s paintings sold over their high estimates; 23 percent sold less than the mean estimate.
- London calling. In 2021, PDB users searched for Magritte a grand total of 6,388 times, with the most interest falling in March, around the time of the London sales.
The Bottom Line
Sotheby’s generous estimate must be banking on a return to pre-pandemic enthusiasm for the artist. The house—which also provided a financial guarantee for the work—is likely emboldened by the rarity of the piece, which has never been sold at auction (though sources say it has been shopped around a bit on the private market). The prestigious provenance also doesn’t hurt: it has remained in the hands of the Belgian Crowet Gillion collection since Magritte created it for his muse, Anne-Marie Crowet Gillion, in 1961.
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