Mysterious Magritte Painting Could Fetch $63M at Auction

René Magritte, “L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend)” (1958), oil on canvas, 28.5/8 x 25.1/2 inches (image courtesy the Gilbert and Lena Kaplan Collection and Christie’s London)

In a centenary celebration of the artistic and literary movement spawned by André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto (1924), Christie’s London will host its Art of the Surreal evening sale on March 7 with a leading highlight that hasn’t been shown since 1998. After over 40 years in a private collection, Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s “L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend)” (1958) is emerging into the market with a high estimate of £50 million (~$37.8 million to $63 million).

Magritte, arguably best known for his iconic artwork “The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe)” (1929), frequently presented ordinary objects in unusual contexts in dreamlike compositions that evoke feelings of both serenity and discomfort. Aside from the image of the pipe, Magritte is remembered for his emphasis on figural anonymity and obscurity as well as levitating objects. In “L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend),” one of the painter’s favored motifs — a man with a bowler hat — looks over a stone ledge at a hilled landscape and cloudy sky while a goblet of water and baguette float in mid-air behind him, positioned as if they’re sitting on a tabletop.

The man in the bowler hat made his first appearance in Magritte’s practice some 32 years earlier in “Les rêveries du promeneur solitaire (The Musings of a Solitary Walker)” (1926), facing a dismal landscape as a male body floats behind him. The capped figure operates as a nondescript stand-in for the everyday man.

“The bowler … poses no surprise,” Magritte said in 1966 after representing it over 50 times in his work. “It is a headdress that is not original. The man with the bowler is just middle-class man in his anonymity. And I wear it. I am not eager to singularize myself.”

In a press release, Christie’s Deputy Chairman of Modern and Impressionist art Olivier Camu described “L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend)” as “extremely poetic, silent, and mysterious, especially given the unknown identity of the sitter together with its evocative title.”

“L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend)” has been in the Gilbert and Lena Kaplan collection since 1980 and is the only work from the family offered in the Art of the Surreal sale. The painting, along with the other included works, is on view in a pre-sale exhibition at the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan through February 14 before going under the hammer at Christie’s in London in March.

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