Top of Surrealism in 2018

[11 May 2018]


This week’s Friday Top ranks the best results in 2018 of one of the major founding artistic movements in the 20th century, Surrealism, a movement that both Christie’s and Sotheby’s devote specialised sales to each year.

Rank Artist Artwork Price ($) Date Auctioneer
1 René MAGRITTE (1898-1967) Le groupe silencieux (1926) $10,031,386 27/02/2018 Christie’s London
2 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) Painting (1925-1964) $5,021,781 27/02/2018 Christie’s London
3 Salvador DALI (1904-1989) Maison pour érotomane (c.1932) $4,878,246 28/02/2018 Sotheby’s London
4 René MAGRITTE (1898-1967) « L’oasis » (1926) $4,353,834 27/02/2018 Christie’s London
5 Salvador DALI (1904-1989) Gradiva (1931) $3,710,735 28/02/2018 Sotheby’s London
6 René MAGRITTE (1898-1967) « Le jockey perdu » (194748) $2,659,734 28/02/2018 Sotheby’s London
7 René MAGRITTE (1898-1967) Les signes du soir (1926) $2,516,978 27/02/2018 Christie’s London
8 René MAGRITTE (1898-1967) « La recherche de l’absolu » (1948) $2,433,485 27/02/2018 Christie’s London
9 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) Painting (1926) $2,183,005 27/02/2018 Christie’s London
10 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) Tête d’homme (1931) $2,016,018 27/02/2018 Christie’s London

In 1924 Surrealism’s figurehead described the new movement as “pure psychic automatism, that allows expression, either verbal or in writing or in any other format, of the real functioning of thought. In other words… the direct dictation of thought without interference from reason or any moral or aesthetic precepts”. The expression of psychic forces, reverie, free association… the Surrealists opened up a massive and infinite field of possibilities and indulged in all kinds of experiments. The impact of their approach is still felt today in art, literature and architecture. Today Moreover, the originality of artists like Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, André Masson, Giorgio de Chirico, Joan Miro and Réné Magritte is still highly respected on the art market: the Surrealists constitute “a separate genre” and, as such, are not mixed with other artists from the same period at London’s prestige sales. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s have adopted a tradition of dedicating independent catalogues to the movement alongside their major Impressionist & Modern Art sales in February. The most recent of these specialised sales were held on 27 and 28 February 2018, focusing, as is customary, on a small number of high quality lots (25 lots sold at Christie’s on 27 February and 10 lots sold the following day at Sotheby’s). Although the sales did not generate any new auction records, the results confirm rapidly ascending markets for Magritte, Miro and Dali.

Magritte: the clear leader

Magritte’s mysterious painting Le groupe silencieux (1926) takes first place in the Surrealist ranking for the year so far. In the pre-sale presentation devoted to the canvas, Christie’s made much of its historical significance, describing the work as one of the best from a pioneering series painted between January 1926 and April 1927 when Réné Magritte was preparing his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Le Centaure in Brussels. The exhibition opened in spring 1927 and was a decisive moment in the career of the young Belgian Surrealist, then aged 29. Christie’s presented Le groupe silencieux as being remarkably ahead of its time and illuminating the path that Magritte had just chosen (having been very impressed by de Chirico’s work). Le groupe silencieux – it was suggested – would allow its buyer to tap into the source of the new metaphysical and poetic inspiration of a now absolutely Surreal Magritte. For an auctioneer, the ability to offer such a work is indeed a welcome opportunity, especially as Magritte’s price index has never been higher. In 2017 three new records were hammered for later Magritte works (from the late 40s to early 60s), each fetching between $13.6 million and $20.5 million. For the year as a whole, Magritte’s art generated over $77.7 million from 109 lots sold, including 14 works on canvas, his best-ever secondary market annual total.

Magritte’s œuvre is both dense and comprehensive. It includes approximately 1,110 paintings, lots of drawings, some sculptures and a number of prints. Sixty percent of his annual turnover is generated in London (essentially from his paintings) but financial logic is increasingly pushing his best works across the Atlantic to New York where two of his best three results were hammered last year.

A Surrealist Duel between Magritte and Miro

For many years Magritte best results were hammered for a series of paintings known as L’Empire des Lumières. The prices of works from this series have posted spectacular increases over the past 20 years. In 1996, one sold for $3.5 million in London. Six years later, a canvas from the same series reached $12.6 million in New York, a new record for a Surrealist work. In 2007 (18 June at Christie’s in London) Magritte was dethroned when Joan Miro’s painting Le Coq fetched $13.1 million. However, the biggest price increases occurred after 2010: between 2012 and 2015, three Miro masterpieces fetched over $20 million each, one of them, Peinture (Etoile Bleue), setting the current record for Surrealism at $36.9 million (June 2012 at Sotheby’s in London). In the price duel between the Belgian and Catalan, Magritte closed the gap somewhat last year, again with a painting from the famous Empire des Lumières series which sold for $20.5 million (13 November 2017, Christie’s New York). Meanwhile, the latest Magritte record has generated another interesting price duel by placing Magritte neck and neck with Dali (aka Avida Dollars).