René Magritte: currently the top-selling Modern artist


With an auction result above 79 million dollars, Magritte is now one of the few artists in the world to have reached that level, along with Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh! Moreover, this year, Magritte is currently the art market’s top-selling Modern artist.

An iconic canvas fetched over $79 million

Last March, London’s prestige art auctions were dominated by Magritte with an exceptional canvas from his famous Empire of Lights series (17 oil paintings produced between 1949 and 1961). The work offered was one of the last made (1961) and one of the largest (114.5 cm x 146 cm), but also one of his most ‘cinematic’ (night and darkness meeting daylight). Sotheby’s described the masterpiece as a combination of a dark street at night under a bright blue sky… typical of René MAGRITTE’s disconcerting Surrealist imagery in which two seemingly incompatible phenomena are combined to create an impossible reality.

Having remained in the same family since its creation, Magritte’s Empire des Lumières was created in 1961 for Baroness Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet, daughter of the Belgian art collector Pierre Crowet and a significant patron of the artist. Today considered a monument of Modern creation, the work was presented for sale with irreproachable provenance. One of the most striking images in the history of 20th century art, but also one of Magritte’s most popular works (along with his famous La trahison des images, often called “This is not a pipe”), L’empire des lumières fetched $79.3 million, over $19 million more than Sotheby’s high estimate and, above all, three times more than Magritte’s previous auction record set in 2018 (by Sotheby’s) at $26.8 million. Le principe du plaisir (The Pleasure Principle) (1937) was acquired for just $74,000 forty years earlier.

Before that sale in March this year, the last painting auctioned from the Empire of Lights series reached $20.5 million at Christie’s in 2017; but it is a work with much more modest dimensions. Having formerly belonged to the Rockefeller family, it also enjoyed excellent provenance. Since 2018, Magritte’s record has climbed from $26.8 million to $79.3 million and Magritte is today firmly established as one of the most ‘essential’ artists in the world.

René Magritte: records at auction (copyright

The breathtaking rise of Modern Art’s new leader in 2022

With a result of $79.3 million, Magritte now belongs to a small group of 24 artists whose works have reached that kind of price level. These include, among others, Picasso, Monet, Leonardo da Vinci, Warhol, Bacon, Giacometti, Matisse, Rubens and even Van Gogh. Magritte’s position among the top-selling artists on the planet stems from a significant rise in the prices of Surrealist art in general, but above all from a phenomenal increase in the price of Magritte’s paintings in particular. Over the last decade, Artprice’s price index for Réné Magritte’s work has shown an 81% increase (2012-2022). But over the past 20 years, the increase is around 678%!

René Magritte: turnover at auction. New record in 2022 (copyright

Magritte’s canvases have therefore been sought after and constantly ‘revalued’ for the last two decades. Already in 2002, Magritte became the most expensive Surrealist artist on the market thanks to an auction record generated by another painting from the Empire of Lights series. Estimated between $5 and $7 million, the work fetched $11.5 million. Clearly the demand 20 years ago was much less intense than in 2022. Back then the estimate was overbid by $4.5 million. Nowadays the bidding adds 19 or 20 million to the initial estimate!

Five years ago, a major exhibition – La Trahison des images, organized at the Pompidou Center in Paris and then at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, in Germany (2016-2017) – added considerable momentum to Magritte’s secondary market. Following those events, several Magritte masterpieces came out of hiding and by the end of 2017, Magritte posted a record annual auction turnover of $77.7 million… a record beaten this year by just one result! Magritte therefore stands out as the most successful Modern artist of the moment, but also as the fifth top-selling artist in Artprice’s global annual turnover ranking so far this year!