An enigmatic René Magritte painting its set to make its auction debut

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"L'empire des lumières" belongs to a group of 17 oil-on-canvas paintings, which represents the only real attempt to create a "series" within Magritte's oeuvre.
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  • René Magritte
    Belgian painter (1898-1968)

One of the most prominent paintings by René Magritte still in private hands, "L'empire des lumières" will go under the hammer in March at Sotheby's in London. The painting, estimated at $60 million, could set a new sales record for the Belgian painter.

René Magritte painted "L'empire des lumières" ("The Empire of Light") in 1961 for Baroness Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet, the daughter of his friend Pierre Crowet. She was the surrealist painter's muse, after his wife Georgette. Although René Magritte met her in 1956, her likeness appears in several works that predate their meeting, such as "La Femme bouteille" and "La Connaissance naturelle." "You see, I was already painting you before I met you," he is said to have told her one day.

"L'empire des lumières" belongs to a group of 17 oil paintings, representing the only real attempt to create a "series" within Magritte's oeuvre. These paintings evolved over time while continuing to interact with each other. The painting on sale at Sotheby's has been exhibited worldwide, before being loaned to the Musée Magritte in Brussels from 2009 to 2020.

A new record for Magritte?

This painting, kept in the collection of Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet's family since its creation, will be offered at auction on March 2. Sotheby's estimates that it will fetch more than $60 million, an amount that could set a new sales record for René Magritte. This currently stands at $26.8 million, following the sale of "Le principe du plaisir" ("The Pleasure Principle") at Sotheby's New York in 2018.

"[The painting's] immediacy and power encapsulate the ‘star quality' that places Magritte firmly among the pantheon of the market's most sought-after artists. We could not be more thrilled to start the new year by presenting this show-stopping work in London, where it represents a new benchmark both for the artist and the global art market," said Helena Newman, Chairman of Sotheby's Europe and Worldwide Head of Impressionist & Modern Art, in a statement .

Before going under the hammer at Sotheby's, "L'empire des lumières" will be exhibited in the auction house's galleries in Los Angeles (January 11 to 14), New York (January 22 to 27), Hong Kong (February 8 to 9) and London (February 22 to March 2).

Caroline Drzewinski

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