Surrealist mood…


The market data is clear: René MAGRITTE (1898-1967)  is currently the top-selling painter of the Surrealist movement. In the last three years, demand for works by the Belgian artist has been unprecedented with record after record in the auction rooms, and 2019 was a historic year for his market with more than $128 million hammered (excluding fees). At Christie’s The Art of the Surreal sale on 5 February, Magritte was very much the dominant artist with no less than seven works (out of 24 lots), most of them expected to fetch multi-million results. All seven paintings sold this Wednesday generated $39 million, being 68 % of the sale’s turnover.

The sale’s star lot – A la rencontre du plaisir – had never been sold before and had remained in the same family for over 50 years after being acquired directly from Magritte in 1962. It presents many of the key elements of Magritte’s visual language, notably the moon and a man with a bowler hat. For Olivier Camu, Vice-President of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department, “It is probably the most realistic and poetically striking Magritte I have ever had the honour to work with”.

Estimated between $10 and 15 million, it won the highest bid of the evening at $ 24.6m, verging on its all-time auction record of $ 26.8 million hammered in 2018 (Le principe du plaisir, Sotheby’s New York). Among the artist’s other masterpieces in the sale two paintings double their estimates brackets: Le somnambule gone for $ 2.2 million, a million above the high estimate, and Le roman populaire sold for $ 1.5 million ($900.000 – 1,3 million).

Another star artist in Christie’s sale was Max ERNST (1891-1976), also well-represented with no less than five works at auction. His finest auction sales reward Tâches de soleil for $227,600 (estimated $91,000 – $130,000) and Jeune homme traversant une rivière… for $701,000 (estimated $390,000 – 520 00 $), while Paysage-effet d’attouchement does not exceed its $3.2 million high estimate for a first sale.

Those two works by Salvador DALI sold well, nothing more: Bateau à voiles dans la baie de Port Lligat in its average estimate at $2.3 million and Ballerine en tête de mort  $764,000 ($391,800 – 653,000). The only work by Francis PICABIA,  Ligustri, fetched $4.2 million which ranks in the artist’s Top 10 most beautiful auctions.

In total Christie’s The Art of the Surreal sale took some $57 million, an identical result to that of last year’s (when the equivalent sale also contained seven works by René Magritte and five by Max Ernst) and $46.8 million in 2018.

Less surreal Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s opted for a different strategy, mixing genres in the same catalogue. But, if the sale did not have a heavy focus on Surrealist works – a sort of session within a session – that was simply because it didn’t have enough material. Prestigious works of this type are increasingly difficult to find and Sotheby’s only had eight to offer, compared to 24 for its rival. The Surrealist works by Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage, Oscar Dominguez, Julio Gonzales, Max Ernst, Joan Miro and Pyke Koch were therefore included in the general catalogue of Impressionist, Modern, Surrealist & Contemporary Art. Among the 10 surreal works included in the sale, only two exceed one million:Personnages et oiseau devant le soleil by Joan MIRO passes the $ 3.1m high estimate and PICABIA’s Sous les oliviers sold in the range of estimate for $ 2.3 million. Another work by Miro, Groupe de personnages , remains unsold.

Magritte & Miro at their best

MAGRITTE is at the top of the auction ranking of Surrealist artists having generated seven of the ten best results in 2019. « Le principe du plaisir », which fetched the 3rd highest price ever hammered for a Surrealist works, exceeding its low estimate last year by more than $10 million, compared with a price of $74,000 some 40 years ago. Magritte is in demand and his prices are soaring: $100 invested in his work 20 years ago is today worth an average of $379, representing positive growth of 279%. In 2019, this success elevated the Belgian artist to 11th place in our global ranking of artist’s by annual auction turnover (all periods and categories combined).

Joan MIRO is also one of the highest-priced artists on the international art market. In 36th place in our global ranking (by annual turnover), he still holds the absolute record for a Surrealist work since his Peinture (Etoile Bleue) (1927) fetched $36.9 million in 2012 (Sotheby’s, London). This unequalled record shows that, apart from Miro, few Surrealist artists get past the $20 million threshold. However, international enthusiasm for his work is far from waning, with no less than 32 of his works being offered in auction rooms around the world in February 2020 alone.

Far behind these two giants, Dali, Ernst and Picabia are still among the top-selling Surrealist artists over the past 10 years.

Top works of art surrealism (2010-2019)

  Artist Work Price Date Auctioneer  
1 Joan MIRO Peinture (Etoile Bleue)(1927) $36,955,821
19/06/12 Sotheby’s Londres
2 Joan MIRO Femme et oiseaux (1940) $31,461,029
21/06/17 Sotheby’s Londres
3 René MAGRITTE Le principe du plaisir (1937) $26,830,500
12/11/18 Sotheby’s New York
4 Joan MIRO Painting Poem (1925) $26,590,650
07/02/12 Christie’s Londres
5 René MAGRITTE Le lieu commun (1964) $24,424,835
27/02/19 Christie’s Londres
6 Joan MIRO Painting (Women, Moon, Birds) (1950) $23,413,412
04/02/15 Christie’s Londres
7 Joan MIRO Peinture (1933) $23,375,000
13/11/17 Christie’s New York
8 Joan MIRO Femme dans la nuit (1945) $22,590,000
15/11/18 Phillips New York
9 Joan MIRO Femme entendant de la musique (1945) $21,687,500
15/05/18 Christie’s New York
10 Salvador DALI Portrait de Paul Eluard (1929) $21,673,806
10/02/11 Sotheby’s Londres
11 René MAGRITTE L’empire des lumières (1949) $20,562,500
13/11/17 Christie’s New York
12 Joan MIRO Mural I/ Mural II/ Mural III (1933) $20,000,000
08/05/18 Christie’s New York
13 René MAGRITTE Le seize septembre (1957) $19,570,000
11/11/19 Christie’s New York
14 René MAGRITTE La corde sensible (1960) $17,926,045
28/02/17 Christie’s Londres
15 Salvador DALI Printemps nécrophilique (1936) $16,322,500
02/05/12 Sotheby’s New York
16 Max ERNST The Stolen Mirror (1941) $16,322,500
01/11/11 Christie’s New York
17 Max ERNST Le roi jouant avec la reine (1944) $15,987,500
16/05/17 Sotheby’s New York
18 Joan MIRO Peinture (L’Air) (1938) $15,153,240
19/06/19 Sotheby’s Londres
19 Joan MIRO Tête humaine (1931) $14,866,500
02/05/12 Sotheby’s New York
20 Joan MIRO L’Oiseau au plumage déployé vole vers l’arbre argenté (1953) $13,794,001
04/02/15 Christie’s Londres
copyright ©2020


Top works of art Surrealism (2019)

  Artist Work Price Date Auctioneer
1 René MAGRITTE Le lieu commun (1964) $24,424,835
27/02/19 Christie’s Londres
2 René MAGRITTE Le seize septembre (1957) $19,570,000
11/11/19 Christie’s New York
3 Joan MIRO Peinture (L’Air) (1938) $15,153,240
19/06/19 Sotheby’s Londres
4 René MAGRITTE Le Sabbat (1959) $9,922,500
11/11/19 Christie’s New York
5 René MAGRITTE La légende des siècles (1950) $8,578,700
12/11/19 Sotheby’s New York
6 René MAGRITTE Le Chant des Sirènes (1953) $7,165,886
29/03/19 Seoul Auction Hong Kong
7 René MAGRITTE L’étoile du matin (1938) $7,051,928
26/02/19 Sotheby’s Londres
8 Joan MIRO Personnage (1967) $5,959,000
14/05/19 Sotheby’s New York
9 Joan MIRO Peinture-poème (Bonheur d’aimer ma brune) (1925) $5,382,500
13/05/19 Christie’s New York
10 René MAGRITTE La magie noire (1946) $5,284,061
19/06/19 Sotheby’s Londres
11 Francis PICABIA Atrata (c.1929) $4,939,594
26/02/19 Sotheby’s Londres
12 Joan MIRO Paysan catalan inquiet par le passage d’un vol d’oiseaux (1952) $4,580,000
14/11/19 Phillips New York
13 René MAGRITTE Le pain quotidien (1942) $4,483,344
27/02/19 Christie’s Londres
14 Francis PICABIA Melibée (c.1931) $4,445,061
19/03/19 Sotheby’s Paris
15 Joan MIRO Peinture (1953) $4,340,000
12/11/19 Sotheby’s New York
16 Yves TANGUY L’Extinction des espèces II (1938) $3,929,680
18/06/19 Christie’s Londres
17 Hans ARP Entité ailée (1961) $3,855,000
13/05/19 Christie’s New York
18 René MAGRITTE Le grand matin (1942) $3,807,252
19/06/19 Sotheby’s Londres
19 René MAGRITTE Moments musicaux (1961) $3,206,664
27/02/19 Christie’s Londres
20 Joan MIRO Personnage (1974) $3,135,000
11/11/19 Christie’s New York
copyright ©2020