Sotheby's Just Sold a Highly Coveted René Magritte Painting for a Record-Breaking $79.7 Million

The painting was bid on by three different potential buyers via telephone.

hanging René Magritte’s ‘L’empire des lumières’,
Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby's

Rare pieces of art regularly sell for high price points, but a recent Sotheby's sale raked in a record-breaking $79.7 million after fees and taxes. What did one lucky buyer get in exchange for that hefty price tag? One of René Magritte's famed "Empire of Light" canvases. The 1961 painting earned more than triple the artist's previous record of $26.8 million, which was paid for his 1937 Le Principe du Plaisir at Sotheby's in 2018.

The painting, which was slated to garner $60 million, was sought after by three different bidders. Art News reports that the highly-coveted piece ultimately went to a buyer on the phone with Alex Branczik, Sotheby's chairman of modern and contemporary art in Asia. The painting's new owner beat out two competitors who were also represented by Sotheby's specialists via telephone. Before putting down the gavel and locking in the price at $68.9 million, Sotheby's auctioneer Helena Newman told bidders, "It's not a masterpiece to let go."

That's a fact she definitely isn't wrong about. According to The New York Times the painting, which depicts a lamplit street at night with a daylit sky, is one of the most celebrated paintings in 20th-century art. The Times reports that Magritte painted 17 canvases of the day-and-night composition beginning in 1948, returning to the subject numerous times throughout the 1950s and '60s.

The rendition auctioned off at Sotheby's was made for Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet, the daughter of Pierre Crowet, one of Magritte's friends and patrons. "Over the years, there have been numerous versions that have been sold, and they have performed extremely well," Melanie Clore, a co-founder of the London-based art adviser company Clore Wyndham, told The Times.

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