Magritte, La Leçon de musique (circa 1965) (est. €2,000,000 – 3,000,000). Image Courtesy of Sotheby's

Fifty Years of Surrealist Icons at Sotheby’s Paris

A Celebration of the Irrepressible Art Movement, in the City it Was Founded, With the Second Iteration of “Surrealism and its Legacy” Auction on 15 March

Featuring: An Exploration of Schiaparelli & Surrealism with Creative Director Daniel Roseberry

“Surrealism’s power and energy has remained unabated from the moment it burst onto the scene over 100 years ago. Though many of the artists who pioneered the movement have for many years been ‘big hitters’, the international market for great works of Surrealist art is only rising – fueled by a new generation of Contemporary art collectors, strong demand from Asian collectors as well as a growing appetite among classic collectors looking for the best of the best. The movement is home to both artists that already sit within the canon of great modern artists and those ripe for rediscovery.”

Thomas Bompard, Head of Sale & Vice-President, Sotheby’s France

In March 2022, Sotheby’s held the first ever sale dedicated to the movement in Paris, which brought an overall total of €33 million, with all but one lot sold and a new auction record set for Francis Picabia. This March, “Surrealism and Its Legacy” will return in full force for a second installment, charting the history and undeniable impact of the movement. Echoing the theme of the auction, the paintings and sculptures within will unlock the story behind Surrealism, showing how these artists brought to the fore timeless themes that remain just as relevant in today’s world. The sale will once again be headlined by leading proponent of the cause Francis Picabia – with a seminal Dada masterpiece once owned by Marcel Duchamp and André Breton (est. €2.5-3.5 million) – and René Magritte’s take on the Old Masters of Vermeer (est. €2-3 million), painted fifty years apart at two key moments in the journey.

Preceded by a pre-sale exhibition from 10 – 14 March, the auction is being staged in Sotheby’s Paris premises, which, in April 1964, was the stage for an important exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Surrealism movement, attended by many of the leading artists themselves, including Dali, Arp, Man Ray, Dorothea Tanning, Victor Brauner, Max Ernst, and Magritte. For this special event, Studio Razavi (the architecture practice based in Paris with offices in New York and London) has been commissioned to design the pre-sale exhibition.

As part of the exploration of the fantastical worlds that Surrealism continues to inhabit, Sotheby’s invited Daniel Roseberry, the creative director of Schiaparelli to paint a picture of the impact the movement had in the fashion world. The Haute Couture house has a long history of strikingly surreal designs, with its founder Elsa Schiaparelli having been a friend of artists including Salvador Dali and Man Ray. Watch the interview here. 

Further information on the contents of the auction to be released in due course.


Francis Picabia, Novia (1916) (est. €2,500,000 – 3,500,000)

“Throughout his life, Picabia surrounded himself with intellectually and artistically powerful women, something that was rare for many of the male artists of the same period apart from his close friend Marcel Duchamp. Though he was fascinated with the mechanism of desire, what interested him even more was what he saw as the superiority of female reasoning – bringing in several women to collaborate on his provocative art journal ‘391’.”

Anne Berest, Great-great Granddaughter of the Artist & Novelist

Treasured in the same private European collection since the 1970s, Picabia’s Novia has long been the star of many collections of Surrealist art – having formerly belonged to some of the greatest names within the movement, including notorious conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp, the founder of the Dada group Tristan Tzara, and even the writer of the first Surrealist manifesto, André Breton.

Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia, Novia (1916) (est. €2,500,000 – 3,500,000). Image Courtesy of Sotheby’s

In 1915, the year before this work was painted, Picabia travelled to New York – a trip that was to have a defining impact on his life and career. Here, he met Duchamp, and took upon experimenting with and developing an independent avant-garde language that became Dadaism (the seminal artistic movement considered the genesis of Surrealism). Novia is a decisive statement of this radical turning point.

The title (painted in gold on the canvas) alludes to a ‘young bride’ or ‘fiancée’ in Spanish, assimilated to a locomotive, in a masterful expression of the mass-industrialisation of society. At the same time, Picabia had begun to believe that all progress – including artistic progress – was wrapped up in women, who he had witnessed playing such a critical role in the war effort. In the painting, Picabia brings together what he saw as the two most important pillars of the new age – the empowerment of women in post-war society and the mechanical innovations of the time. Women were always at the heart of the Futurist and Surrealist movements, and this painting is one of the earliest times that influence was expressed.

The sale will also offer two further works by the artist, including a painting from his famed Transparency series, which has remained unseen since its last exhibition in New York in 1934.

Magritte, La Leçon de musique (circa 1965) (est. €2,000,000 – 3,000,000)

Painted at the end of his life – just two years before he died – La Leçon de musique takes its title from a painting by Vermeer – one of the Old Masters most revered by Magritte for his masterful technique and use of light. It is a perfect encapsulation of Surrealist imagery – combining several of the recurrent preoccupations of his art, including the bell, isolated body parts, objects suspended in the sunset and unexpected juxtapositions.  A fitting ‘swansong to Surrealism’, it is also Magritte’s final homage to the great masters that preceded him.

This example is the only known oil version of this image, with the artist having worked on several studies on paper from the beginning of 1963. It is coming to auction from a private collection, where it has resided for two decades, and prior to that it has only had one other owner (who acquired the painting directly from Magritte himself). It has been exhibited at the Magritte Museum in Brussels since 2011.

Ed Ruscha, Eye with a fluid (1968) (est. €1,500,000 – 2,000,000)

Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha, Eye with a fluid (1968) (est. €1,500,000 – 2,000,000). Image Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Testament to the legacy inherited from Surrealism, the sale will offer a remarkable work by leading American post-war artist Ed Ruscha in its auction debut. Eye with fluid hails from Ruscha’s gunpowder series, produced at the end of the 1960s. Using the technique of gradually building up layers of gunpowder – soaking the pellets and applying with cotton buds – the artist renders the single word (‘Eye’) as a floating, ribbon-like three-dimensional shape, heightening the surreal quality of the image. The ‘fluid’ mentioned in the title appears in the painting as a teardrop – suffusing the word ‘eye’ with the power of a real eye. Ruscha’s play on words and their meanings challenged Magritte’s most famous aphorism: “This is not a pipe.”

The last giant of Pop Art still producing today, Ruscha will be celebrated with a major retrospective staged at the Museum of Modern Art in New York later this year.

Further artists represented in this section of the sale include Alexander Calder, Lucio Fontana and Marcel Broodthaers.

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