Lot 60
  • 60

René Magritte

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • René Magritte

  • oil on canvas
  • 45 by 50cm.
  • 17 3/4 by 19 3/4 in.


Georgette Magritte, Brussels (until 1986)
Sale: Sotheby's, London, The Remaining Contents of the Studio of René Magritte, 2nd July 1987, lot 893
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels (purchased at the above sale)
Private Collection (acquired from the above. Sale: Christie's, London, 25th June 2001, lot 46)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte, cent-cinquante oeuvres: première vue mondiale de ses sculptures, 1968, no. 116
Lessines, Hôtel de Ville, Hommage de la Ville de Lessines à René Magritte, 1973, no. 22 or 23
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Rétrospective Magritte dans les collections privées, 1988, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Tokyo, Mitsukoshi Museum of Art; Osaka, Daimaru Museum & Fukuoka, City Museum, René Magritte, 1994-95, no. 73, illustrated in the catalogue
Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Magritte, 1996-97, no. 46, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Hommage à Magritte, 1998
Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, René Magritte, 1998-99, no. 35, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Germinal, Brussels, 2nd February 1968, illustrated p. 11
Luc Barthels, 'Bij de weduwe van Magritte', in De Vlaamse gids, Brussels, March 1974, illustrated in a photograph of the interior of Magritte's house p. 21
Stan Lauryssens, 'Le Modèle du maître', in Panorama, Antwerp, 6th August 1974, p. 29
Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, no. 387, illustrated p. 179
Jean Saucet, 'Magritte', in Paris Match, Paris, 26th January 1979, illustrated in a photograph of the interior of Magritte's house p. 50
Terri James-Kester, 'Magritte on Magritte', in Sphere, Brussels, January-February 1985, illustrated in a photograph of the interior of Magritte's house p. 23
Jacques Meuris, Magritte, Paris, 1988, no. 262, illustrated in colour p. 179
Marcel Paquet, René Magritte, Cologne & Bonn, 1992, illustrated p. 19
David Sylvester (ed.), Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte. Catalogue Raisonné. Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes 1949-1967, London, 1993, vol. III, no. 1066, illustrated p. 446 (titled Landscape with Rider)

Catalogue Note

In 1948 Magritte started working on his first version of L'Empire des lumières, a subject that he would return to throughout his career, and which has become one of the most iconic images of his art (fig. 1). In fact, the present work is the last version of this theme on which the artist worked shortly before his death in August 1967, and which demonstrates his fascination with the subject until the end of his life. In a television programme recorded in April 1956, Magritte gave a commentary on this image: '... what is represented in the picture 'The dominion of light' are the things I thought of, to be precise, a nocturnal landscape and a skyscape such as can be seen in broad daylight. The landscape suggests night and the skyscape day. This evocation of night and day seems to me to have the power to surprise and delight us. I call this power: poetry' (quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), op. cit., p. 145).


It is this poetic and mysterious quality that makes L'Empire des lumières one of Magritte's most popular and celebrated images. It is not disturbing in the way that so many of Magritte's images are, yet it does challenge the natural order of things and may even be one of the most deliberate surrealist statements of his late years. The evocation of night and day is precisely the sort of reconciliation of opposites prized by the Surrealists, as in, for example, the opening line of Breton's poem L'Aigrette: 'Si seulement il faisait du soleil cette nuit' ('If only the sun were to come out tonight'). But it is also a visual paradox typical of Magritte's art. He used this image to make the point that a painting does not express ideas but the power to create them. 'After I had painted L'Empire des lumières', he told a friend, 'I got the idea that night and day exist together, that they are one. This is reasonable, or at the very least it's in keeping with our knowledge: in the world, night always exists at the same time as day. (Just as sadness always exists in some people at the same time as happiness in others)' (quoted in Sarah Whitfield, Magritte (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London, 1992, note to no. 111).


The division of the composition into two separate parts is typical of the change that appeared in Magritte's painting around the mid-1950s. With a greater simplicity came a greater monumentality, and during the final decade of his career Magritte chose to expand on one of his favourite images, the sky. As he once told a reporter, 'the sky is a form of curtain because it hides something from us. We are surrounded by curtains' (ibid., note to no. 120). In other words, although the sight of a blue sky with drifting white clouds may seem benign, it alters us to the ways in which we are unable to see or comprehend ultimate truths. Whilst most other versions of this subject depict an empty street devoid of human presence, in this version Magritte has added the image of his jockey perdu, who appears in another composition, Les Barricades mystérieuses of 1961 (fig. 2).


The title L'Empire des lumières was found by the Belgian poet and Magritte's friend Paul Nougé. The word 'empire' in the title can be translated as either 'territory' or 'dominance', a double meaning that is intentional but which, as Nougé pointed out, refers to the way a vivid day sky dominates a city street obscured by night. The importance of Magritte's titles, usually invented by his writer friends, was underlined by David Sylvester when he wrote: 'Magritte shared the belief held by virtually all surrealist painters and sculptors that a work of his was not complete without a title - "a poetic title", meaning a title that was not directly descriptive but relevant obliquely and irrationally, a title that might be arrived at by free association. What is special about the poetry of Magritte's titles is that, as in his paintings, the language is not ornate or arcane: it is banal, neutral, plain' (D. Sylvester, Magritte, London, 1992, p. 233).