7 Surrealist Works by Magritte, Dalí and More

Launch Slideshow
Surrealists created art around the notion that the purest form of expression was found in the subconscious, free from the constraints of reason or socially imposed norms. Salvador Dalí outlined the principal themes that distinguished Surrealism. The universal language that Dalí refers to includes the power of memory and imagination. Channeling this inspiration in their paintings, Surrealists created other worlds based more in dreams than in reality. Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art sales boast an impressive selection of Surrealist works of art by artists such as Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí and Paul Delvaux. Click ahead for a first look at the sales highlights.

Impressionist & Modern Art
Evening Sale

14 November | New York

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale


15 November | New York

7 Surrealist Works by Magritte, Dalí and More

  • Paul Delvaux, Le Veilleur III ou Horizons, 1962. Estimate $1,800,000–2,200,000.
    Paul Delvaux commonly uses imagery of train stations in his dreamlike canvases, a setting that symbolizes for the artist memories of his childhood:  “As a child, I liked trains and this nostalgia has stayed with me; memories of youth…I paint the trains of my childhood and consequently, that childhood itself” (quoted in Marc Rombaut, Paul Delvaux, New York, 1990, p. 22). For the Surrealists, youth and childhood memories were prime sources of inspiration, because as a young child, one’s mind had not been tainted by what the Surrealists considered the repressive norms of society. Many Surrealists, including Delvaux, depicted memories of youth in their paintings. In Le Veilleur III ou Horizons, the eerie train station is made even more mysterious by the four central figures in the canvas, whose presence gives viewers the sense that they’re observing a dream.

  • Salvador Dalí, Spectre du soir sur la plage, 1935. Estimate $6,000,000–8,000,000.
    Salvador Dalí ’s Spectre du soir sur la plage is yet another example of the Surrealists’ fascination with memories of the past. The sandy, brilliant landscape of this work evokes the Costa Brava beaches where Dalí spent summers as a child. The memories from this period of time were so formative for the artist that he repeatedly created haunting, ethereal works set in these beaches. For the Surrealists, memories were a product of the subconscious and thus a maximum form of creative expression that had to be conveyed in their work.

  • Giorgio de Chirico, Oreste e Pilade, 1957. Estimate $250,000–350,000.
    Like his counterpart Delvaux, Giorgio de Chirico also succeeds in depicting vast, lonely settings that mimic the silent, solitary world of dreams. Oreste e Pilade, offered in this season’s Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale, is an example of de Chirico’s Surrealist sensibilities and his interest in the human subconscious as manifested in dreams. The quiet Italian piazza visible through the right hand window and the faceless mannequins, both common visual tropes in de Chirico’s work, create a disquieting and enigmatic Surrealist setting.

  • Yves Tanguy, Sans titre, 1931. Estimate $320,000–380,000.
    Yves Tanguy, one of the main figures of the Surrealist movement, is known for his dream-like landscapes of floating, abstract objects. These dark, ambiguous spaces evoke the deep landscape of the mind, while the figures present in this mysterious space represent aspects of memories and dreams that populate our subconscious. In Sans titre Tanguy places amorphous forms, reminiscent of the prehistoric monoliths that formed part of the artist’s childhood in Brittany, in a dark, ghostly terrain, more akin to a haunting nightmare than a dream.

  • Max Ernst, Endless Night, 1940. Estimate $3,500,000–5,000,000.
    While Max Ernst had technically separated from the Surrealists by the time he created this work, the influence of his participation within the movement is nonetheless evident. The captivating landscape of Endless Night is an exercise of the imagination, an element of the subconscious that the Surrealists valued because of its distance from reason. Ernst’s work inhabits the threshold between the real and the imaginary, as the colorful landscape, fauna and shadows are interposed with real, animal-like figures. While viewers are not presented with a realistic landscape, they are certainly privy to Ernst’s memories and imagination, both of which seem to be channeled through this fantastical scenery.

  • Wifredo Lam, Sans titre, Painted circa 1950. Estimate $500,000–700,000.
    Wifredo Lam’s Sans titre represents the femme-cheval, a figure of mythical and spiritual origins commonly depicted in the Surrealist’s imagery. Lam himself included this hybrid female-horse character in his work multiple times in 1950, the year this painting was created. This hybrid figure represents the threshold between several worlds—the animal and human, the natural and the spiritual—as well as the generative power inherent in transformation.

  • Joan Miró, Femmes, oiseaux et étoiles, 1942. Estimate $1,500,000–2,000,000.
    Femmes, oiseaux et étoiles incorporates some of Joan Miró’s classic element. His signs and imagery derive solely from his own vocabulary of lines and shapes and bear no resemblance to a standard visual language that could be universally interpreted. Nevertheless, Miró’s visual vocabulary speaks to the Surrealist ideal of a universal language rooted in the unconscious and the free expression of desires, as Miró’s technique employs a mix of improvisation, responding to the materials at hand. His creations are intuitive and instinctive, qualities highly valued by the Surrealists.


We use our own and third party cookies to enable you to navigate around our Site, use its features and engage on social media, and to allow us to perform analytics, remember your preferences, provide services that you have requested and produce content and advertisements tailored to your interests, both on our Site as well as others. For more information, or to learn how to change your cookie or marketing preferences, please see our updated Privacy Policy & Cookie Policy.

By continuing to use our Site, you consent to our use of cookies and to the practices described in our updated Privacy Policy.