René Magritte Highlights The Art Of The Surreal Evening Sale

The iconic painting was last presented at Auction approaching 20 years ago.

René Magritte’s lyrical gouache Le retour (circa 1950, estimate: £4,000,000-6,000,000) will highlight the 22nd edition of Christie’s annual The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale, which will take place on 28 February 2023. Le retour presents a dream-like variation on one of René Magritte’s most poetic motifs: the oiseau de ciel, or ‘sky-bird,’ whose form, captured mid-flight, appears to be hewn from the very environment it inhabits.

The subject had first emerged in the artist’s 1940 composition Le retour, now in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, and later in Le baiser (1951) (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). The motif had evolved by the time Magritte created Le baiser, depicting similar subject matter to Le retour (circa 1950) but this time, completely inverting the earlier scenario, with night replacing day in the body of the bird, while the surrounding seascape remained bathed in the soft light of the overcast sky.

As such, these two works may be considered pendant pieces, exploring a contrasting but similar visual conundrum. Last seen publicly when auctioned by Christie’s in 2004, Le retour will be on view in New York from 28 to 31 January and Hong Kong from 7 to 10 February before being exhibited in London from 22 to 28 February 2023.

Olivier Camu, Deputy Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art, Christie’s and Ottavia Marchitelli, Head of Sale, The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale, Christie’s London: “René Magritte’s beautiful dreamscape, Le retour offers viewers a universal symbol of hope, a vision that is at once instantly identifiable and yet otherworldly. We have continued to nurture the global appetite for works by Magritte, with our successes in his market reflected by increased interest and competition witnessed in our dedicated annual sale platform for The Art of the Surreal.

René Magritte Highlights The Art Of The Surreal Evening Sale
René Magritte, Le retour (circa 1950, estimate: £4,000,000-6,000,000)

We are thrilled to present such an iconic work, last seen at auction almost 20 years ago, as a central highlight in The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale on 28 February. The dove of peace has been recognised the world over and we are sure this exquisite gouache will inspire great interest from our international client base.”

The variation of one of Magritte’s most recognised themes in Le retour provides a fascinating insight into his practice, especially in relation to his gouaches. While he sometimes created works on paper that were essentially reprisals of subjects previously explored in oil, he explained to the American collector Barnet Hodes, that his works needed to be ‘rethought’ rather than merely reproduced through gouache.

The medium allowed him to disseminate his core visual ideas/concepts to a wider audience. The colour allowing him to convey the full meaning of the image, describing texture and weight, and the smooth surface of the gouache allows him to heighten the surreality of the image, and accentuate the fissures or leaps of logic at play in the composition.

Over the course of his artistic career, René Magritte became increasingly adept at converting his vision of the mysteries of the world into pictures that, through their icon-like simplicity, conveyed their messages all the more strikingly.


Christie’s, the world's leading art business, had auction sales in the first half of 2019 that totalled £2.2 billion / $2.8 billion. Christie’s is a name and place that speaks of extraordinary art, unparalleled service and international expertise. Christie’s offers around 350 auctions annually in over 80 categories, including all areas of fine and decorative arts, jewellery, photographs, collectables, wine, and more. Prices range from $200 to over $100 million. Christie's also has a long and successful history conducting private sales for its clients in all categories, with emphasis on Post-War & Contemporary, Impressionist & Modern, Old Masters and Jewellery.