Magritte Floats Into 2023 on a Tailwind

After a blazing year of auction sales, Magritte's market is ready for consolidation around works with clear track records.

Leading Christie’s Surrealism sale in London this February will be René Magritte’s gouache Le retour (circa 1950) which carries a £4 million estimate. 

Le retour presents a dream-like variation on one of René Magritte’s most poetic motifs: the oiseau de ciel, or ‘sky-bird,’ whose form, captured mid-flight, appears to be hewn from the very environment it inhabits,” Christie’s informs us in the press release. But the image of the “sky-bird” isn’t confined to the versions of Le Retour beginning with the 1940 composition now in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Later, Magritte worked with the form in Le baiser (1951) (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). 

This particular work was previously sold at auction in 2004 where it made just under 1 million pounds or $1.8m in dollars. A version of Le Baiser, slightly smaller and also a work on paper, was sold at Christie’s in February 2020 for nearly £2.9 million or $3.7 million. It sold three previous times at auction in 2005, 2010 and 2015 before coming to auction in 2020. Each time the sale price increased. The sale that is comparable to Le Retour’s 2004 auction price took place in February of 2005 where it sold for $1.1 million. 

Christie’s estimate tracks the price appreciation of Le Baiser. The sale is also coming off a spectacular year for Magritte in 2022. According to LiveArt’s database, an astonishing $224 million worth of Magritte’s art sold in 2022. That’s more than the previous two years combined—well above the previous peak year of 2019 when $125 million in works by Magritte were auctioned.

This year, the Magritte market is likely due for a pullback. Previous peak years were followed by lower sales volume but often at higher price points for works. These consolidation years tend to focus on just these kinds of works.

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