Renowned auction house Sotheby’s kicked off its highly anticipated weeklong New York Sales with the exceptional offering of The Mo Ostin Collection.
A highlight of the sale was René Magritte’s iconic artwork, “L’Empire des lumières” (1951), which achieved an astounding price of $42.3 million, making it the second most valuable piece by the artist ever sold at auction.
Magritte’s “L’Empire des lumières” continues to captivate art enthusiasts and collectors worldwide. This remarkable sale follows the previous record-breaking auction of another painting from Magritte’s acclaimed “Empire of Light” series at Sotheby’s London in 2022, where it fetched an impressive $79.4 million. Undoubtedly, “L’Empire des lumières” has solidified its position as the definitive embodiment of Surrealism.
This particular painting, part of the Mo Ostin Collection, made its auction debut after being privately acquired by the legendary Warner Bros. record executive, Mo Ostin, in 1979. The artwork, having been out of public view since its acquisition, generated significant excitement among art enthusiasts. After a fierce 10-minute bidding war involving five determined bidders, the piece found its new home with a collector bidding alongside Sotheby’s Vice Chairman, Simon Shaw.
The genesis of this captivating artwork can be traced back to 1948 when Magritte first began exploring its theme. Over the following decade, the artist dedicated himself to reimagining and enriching the composition, resulting in a group of 17 oil paintings collectively titled “L’Empire des lumières.” This series represents one of Magritte’s few ventures into creating a cohesive body of work. Today, these paintings have become revered visual icons, held in prestigious institutional collections worldwide.
Like many of Magritte’s masterpieces, “L’Empire des lumières” presents viewers with a subversive paradox, blurring the boundaries between perception and reality. The painting seamlessly combines the known and the impossible, leaving a haunting and indelible impression on its beholders. Its exceptional beauty and flawless execution epitomize the artistry of Magritte.
Magritte drew upon a profound understanding of the mysterious allure of the night, contrasting it with the world of light and the known. His artistic genius lies in recognizing the inherent tension between these opposing forces while also revealing a profound synchronicity. This shift in Magritte’s approach not only marked an important evolution in his body of work but also established a compelling dialogue with established painting traditions.
Sotheby’s Chairman and Worldwide Head of Sales for Global Fine Art, Brooke Lampley, commented, “René Magritte’s L’empire des lumières is one of the most recognizable and definitive images of the 20th century – a work which both captures the essence of the Surrealist movement while continuing to captivate global audiences today. Perhaps no work from the collection better represents Mo Ostin’s forward-thinking vision as a collector – acquiring this painting more than 40 years ago, long before Magritte became the global phenomenon as we know him today.”
In addition to the record-setting sale of “L’Empire des lumières,” Sotheby’s presented another Surrealist masterpiece from René Magritte’s repertoire. “Le domaine d’Arnheim,” making its auction debut alongside the Ostin Collection, fetched an impressive price of $18.9 million.
The Mo Ostin Collection, with its unparalleled assembly of significant artworks, sets the stage for an exciting week of sales at Sotheby’s New York. These exceptional pieces continue to captivate art enthusiasts, cementing their place in the annals of art history while leaving an enduring impact on those fortunate enough to witness their splendor.