Light And Day: Magical Magritte Makes History At Sotheby's

Light And Day: Magical Magritte Makes History At Sotheby's

T he rainclouds lifted on the afternoon of 2 March as Sotheby's presented its inaugural Now Evening Auction ahead of the Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction, taking a packed saleroom on a thrilling journey across eras, generations, nations and artistic movements – with plenty of drama and record-smashing sales along the way.

Sotheby's Principal Auctioneer Oliver Barker on the rostrum for the Now Evening Auction
Photo: Haydon Perrior

The Now Evening Auction burst from the traps with an vibrant selection of stunning contemporary artworks, tightly curated with an emphasis on the most coveted, cutting-edge art available today. And with fast bidding soon rolling in from clients worldwide – 50% of the works attracted Asian bids– the sale was soon being followed by clients from 46 countries, the highest in nearly a decade.

The auction's format, focusing on new work, inspired clients to bid vigorously, with new artist records resulting for a number of names, including Hilary Pecis and Robert Nava, alongside exciting auction first-timers such Rachel Jones and Robbie Barrat. Another record was sent tumbling by Shara Hughes, whose Naked Lady set the tone for the evening by leaving its £220,000 - £280,000 estimate far behind, and selling for an impressive £2,031,500.

Flora Yuknovich’s Warm, Wet & Wild (2020) quickly roared past its estimate of £150,000–200,000, coming in to land at £2,697,000, marking a new record for this exceptional young artist, who has been making waves after wowing the Sotheby’s saleroom last November with I'll Have What She's Having.

Arriving at Sotheby's courtesy of pop legend Robbie Williams, a frenzy of bidding greeted Banksy’s sardonic and powerful Vandalised Oil (Choppers) which comfortably exceeded expectations to realise £4,384,900. This is one of the best examples from the Vandalised Oils series, and one of only a handful to have been reproduced in Banksy’s only official monograph, Wall and Piece. It reminds us not only of how effective and funny the concetto at the heart of the Vandalised Oils is, but also of Banksy’s tireless focus on various social issues, most pertinently his anti-war message.

A wave of excitement met Birmingham artist Hurvin Anderson's Lower Lake III (2006) which almost doubled its estimate, finally hammering down at £2,818,000. This compelling work is one of the strongest examples of Anderson's series of canvases depicting the island in the middle of Handsworth Park in Birmingham, where he grew up as a second-generation member of the Windrush generation.

Hurvin Anderson Lower Lake III Sold £2,818,000

Lower Lake III was created shortly after his return from a residency in Trinidad, merging hazy recollections of Anderson’s youth with the impressions gathered in the Tropics.

auctioneer Helena Newman at the rostrum for the Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction Photo: haydon perrior

The second sale of the evening, the Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction was bejewelled with breathtaking art and record-breaking successes, topped off with a show-stopping tour de force, when L’empire des lumières (1961) by René Magritte shattered all records to reach an astonishing £59,422,000 ($79.8 million) - the highest price ever paid for a painting in GBP in Europe (as well as tripling the artist's record). This result sent the night’s combined sale total soaring to £221.4 / $297.2 million – the highest total ever achieved in a single day at Sotheby’s London.

At the heart of L’empire des lumières lies an entrancing enigma – a questioning of fundamental truths and mysteries that beguiles us no less, sixty years after he created and gifted this painting to his close friend, Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet. The paradox at its core, as in all of Magritte’s best work, is the artist probing an inherently magical quality as the opposite of our everyday. ‘I have always felt the greatest interest in night and day, without however having any preference for one or the other,’ noted Magritte. ‘This great personal interest in night and day is a feeling of admiration and astonishment’

Claude Monet: Nymphéas (1914 - 1917) SOLD £23,228,500


Deep bidding took Claude Monet’s limpid Nymphéas (1914–1917) – described by the artist as being 'the illusion of an endless whole, of a watery surface with no horizon and no shore…a refuge of peaceful meditation in the middle of a flowering aquarium’ – to a new home, at £23,228,500. An immersive study of waterlilies by the Impressionist master, this work belongs to the group of Nymphéas that Monet painted during the First World War, in his Giverny gardens as he worked towards his Grandes Décorations, a sequence of monumental paintings of the gardens, that would take his depictions of the waterlily pond in dramatic new directions.

Bucolic scenes clearly resonated in the sale room, as David Hockney's marvellous Garrowby Hill (2017) proved, comfortably sailing past its upper estimate to land a new home at £14,093,950. Unquestionably one of the most glorious and iconic works in Hockney’s canon, Garrowby Hill is comparable to the dramatic pool paintings of the 1960s, the conversation pieces of the 1970s, and the meandering California landscapes of the 1980s and ‘90s. This painting further set the tone for the definitive Yorkshire landscapes of the 2000s and, crucially, inspired Hockney’s striking Grand Canyon panoramas.

Gustave Caillebotte: Portrait de Monsieur R. (Reyre) (1877) sold: £6,682,900


The landmark Impressionist Exhibition of 1879 – which birthed the artistic movement – included a certain painting deemed shockingly modern at the time, Gustave Caillebotte’s Portrait de Monsieur R. (Reyre) (1871). A daring submission to the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879 and among the first in a defining suite of portraits by the artist, Caillebotte was a crucial figure in the emergence of Impressionism and this evening, the historic Portrait de Monsieur R. exceeded estimates to sell for £6,682,900.

A magnificent evening of art concluded with a total of £221/ $297 Million, the highest total ever achieved in a single day at Sotheby’s London. With 88% of all lots sold and the highest number of works exceeding £10 million sold in five years, the Now Evening Auction and Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction asserted the strength of the international market's responsiveness to new talents and historical icons alike, in presentations that reached around the globe inspiring engagement from collectors new and old.

Later this month, Sotheby’s will present the first sale dedicated to Surrealist art ever staged in Paris, with 25 lots carrying a combined pre-sale estimate of $30 - 43 million.

Contemporary Art Auction Results

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