Should you Invest in art of René Magritte?

René François Ghislain Magritte is a Belgian painter recognized for being one of the most famous and iconic pillars of the artistic movement of surrealism. He is since 2022 in the top 5 of the most high-performing modern artists according to Artprice. René Magritte immersed himself into the surrealism movement during his stay in Paris in 1927 after first abstract works and his interest in photography. The artist is famous and recognizable for his works that challenge the viewer’s perception and that show obscure associations that the artist perceived between objects. “This is not a pipe” for example is a quote most art lovers know to associate with Magritte’s famous works. His work also made political and societal standpoints and influenced other later artists such as pop art artist Andy Warhol. Read on in our article ‘What is René Magritte most known for’ if you want to learn more.

How much are the artworks of René Magritte worth?

The most basic question that anybody who wants to invest in art of a renowned artist like René Magritte might ask is: How much does his/her art cost? However, the real question should be about the worth of an artist, which is rather future looking instead of only focussing on past auction results and current prices of art for sale. Nevertheless, we gathered in this article both past records of auction results of René Magritte’s artworks as well as upcoming events and trends that showcase the worth of René Magritte.
What makes René Magritte certainly an artist of value to art collectors and investors is hence far and foremost his recognition of leading an artistic movement. Beyond that, he checks the box for having a unique and recognizable style and there is no doubt about the significance of his work in the historic and societal context of his time. What further comes into play is the international exposure that Magritte’s art has had over the past decades and will have in the upcoming years. For example, MoMA held in 2014 the exhibition “Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938,” where his early experimental works were showcased.

Who bought the most valuable artwork of René Magritte?

On March 2nd, 2022, the new world auction record for René Magritte was set: The Empire of Light (1961) sold at $79.7 million during an evening sale of Sotheby’s in London via a buyer over the phone. This masterpiece is a striking combination of a night street scene set against a bright cloud-filled blue sky. Its original French title is L’Empire des Lumières. René Magritte painted an entire series of 17 similar scenes between 1953 and 1954 and later ones in the 50s and 60s. This painting was exhibited around the world such as in Rome, Paris, Vienna, Milan, Seoul, Edinburgh or San Francisco. Other lots on offer at that bespoke auction were works by Claude Monet.
So what made this auction sale so special? In a nearly 10-minute-long fight, three very determined bidders battled and outbid each other repeatedly. Helena Newman, Sotheby's auctioneer for this sale, commented: "It's not a masterpiece to let go". Will we know who was the winning buyer on the phone? No, this remains at the discretion of Sotheby’s. One of the most outspoken and invested owner of Magritte artworks however worth having heard of, is former US Secretary of Commerce and billionaire Wilbur Ross, Jr. The previous owner of this record-breaking auction sale was Anne-Marie Crowet Gillon, a French baroness and the daughter of lawyer Pierre Crowet, one of Magritte's most important patrons. For the past decade, it has been on loan to the Musée Magritte Museum in Brussels.
The very first notable acquisition of the painting of the series L’Empire des Lumières was done by Nelson Rockefeller in 1950. One of the most stunning paintings of the series measuring 1,46 times 1,14 meter is currently available for sale on LITO in a limited edition print series of 85 editions in collaboration with the Musée Magritte Museum.
Previous record-breaking sales of René Magritte artworks were Le Principe du Plaisir (1937), auctioned in 2018 at Sotheby’s in New York, selling at $26.7 million, just a quarter of the current record. The following years counted at least one auction sale each above the 20 Million Dollar mark and with an annual turnover at auctions that had doubled compared to the previous decade (source and credits: Artprice). In 2012 already, Les jours gigantesques (1928) set an upwards going trend and sold at Christie’s London for $11.3 million. The first skyrocketing records for René Magritte were achieved in 1998 at Christie’s New York sale of Les valeurs personnelles (1952). Three more artworks of the artist achieved prices exceeding $5 million each.

Why is René Magritte's art expected to further increase in value?

If you consider investing in art, the most important fact to bear in mind is that Magritte’s masterpieces experienced a steady increase in value for over three decades. In the past decade alone, Magritte has outperformed the S&P 500, realizing gains of over 280% according to Artnet. Artprice ranked René Magritte amongst the top 5 most high-performing modern artists in the market in 2022, right after Modigliani, Picasso, Malevich, and Matisse.
The valuation and increase of art are usually defined by the prices realized on past auctions. Price increases over time for a particular piece are then averaged across all transactions of an artist’s portfolio that was auctioned in order to come to a single indicator of an increase in valuation over time for an artist. An artist’s market value is defined by the artworks that changed ownership. This leaves out the value of the artists’ works that are in private ownership or in museums’ hands.

Most auction sales for René Magritte took place at either Christie’s or Sotheby’s. However, it is worth noting that a considerable amount of pieces are not owned by collectors or investors. Instead, they are in private or institutional hands and are showcased in museums such as the Musée Magritte Museum in Brussels and New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). This reduces the volume of artworks available on the secondary market, which is good news for investors as it renders those pieces out for sale even more desirable and valuable.

Some art price indices such as Masterworks’ art market index include a risk premium that is looking at volatility. The skyrocketing sale of ‘Empires of Light’ aside, René Magritte’s volatility in sales over the past 20 years is rather low. Instead, the trend of increase is steady and sustainable.

Beyond the dimension of price increase of Magritte’s works, there is the continuous exposure of the artist by museums in exhibitions and collections that impacts an artist’s worth. René Magritte’s most iconic past exhibition had certainly been held in New York in 2013. The Museum of Modern Art, the Menil Collection, and the Art Institute of Chicago showcased ‘The exhibition, Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938’ with great interest from the public. The artwork ’La durée poignardée’ (Time Transfixed) of René Magritte was also selected in the recent Tate Modern exhibition ‘Surrealism Beyond Borders’, held from February to August 2022 in the Eyal Ofer Galleries. In three months alone in 2022, the most expensive artwork of René Magritte, L'Empire des Lumières, was last exhibited in Los Angeles, New York, followed by Hong Kong and London.

And there is more to come in 2023: Works from René Magritte are on the rise and so is surrealism as a whole, precisely 100 years after its rise. The Surrealism Gallery has already announced over 15 exhibitions in renowned museums worldwide in 2023 with the theme of surrealism. Side by side with René Magritte, the artists that are most exhibited are Man Ray, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dali. Renown Museums around the world that exhibit surrealism include works of René Magritte. Worth noting in your calendar is ‘New Arrivals: From Salvador Dalí to Jenny Saville’ at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh (until February 12, 2023). If you want to get more updates about fresh information related to René Magritte and opportunities to invest, please sign up on the Artist page: René Magritte.