L’empire des lumières (pictured) was one of a series of 17 paintings showing silhouetted buildings overlaid on different skies. This 3ft 9in x 4ft 10in (1.15 x 1.46m) oil from 1961 came to Sotheby’s on March 2 from the collection of Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet, a close family friend of the artist (her father Pierre had been a patron and Magritte painted her portrait in 1956).
The lot was guaranteed by the auction house, reportedly at over £40m. Drawing three phone bidders, it was knocked down at £51.5m (£59.4m with premium), a record for the artist. It was the second-highest price for a work of art sold in Europe, behind the Giacometti bronze L’homme qui marche I that made £58m in the same rooms in 2010.
The Magritte provided a significant boost to the 54-lot auction which generated £191.2m including premium.
Christie’s 20th/21st century sale the night before raised £182.7m from 55 lots and was led by Franz Marc’s (1880-1916) Cubist painting Foxes from 1913. It took £37m. A late Francis Bacon triptych from 1986-7, subject to a third-party guarantee, sold on low estimate at £35m.