Magritte Masterpiece Featuring a Floating Baguette Goes to Auction

“L’ami intime” could fetch $63 million at an upcoming sale celebrating 100 years of Surrealism

L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend)
L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend), René Magritte, 1958 Christie's

André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, a text that both described and shaped a revolutionary artistic movement, turns 100 this year. To celebrate this milestone, a mysterious masterpiece by René Magritte that hasn’t been seen publicly in over 25 years is going to auction.

Completed in 1958, L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend) is the highlight of a Christie’s sale on March 7. Officials estimate it could fetch up to £50 million (about $63 million).

The work is “extremely poetic, silent and mysterious,” says Olivier Camu, Christie’s deputy chairman of modern and Impressionist art, in a statement. “[It’s] a tour de force of the artist’s hyper-realistic technique.”

Magritte is known for his enigmatic paintings that place ordinary objects in unconventional and dreamlike environments. His most famous work, The Treachery of Images (1929), simply depicts a pipe underneath the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”). As New York’s Museum of Modern Art writes, the Belgian Surrealist “made the familiar disturbing and strange, posing questions about the nature of representation and reality.”

In L’ami intime, a man wearing a suit and bowler hat stands on a stone balcony with his back to the viewer. He faces a distant landscape of rolling hills. Behind his back, a glass of wine and a baguette float in the air. This detail, seemingly unnoticed by the painting’s subject, is baffling and bizarre—which is just what Breton had in mind.

“Let us not mince words: The marvelous is always beautiful, anything marvelous is beautiful, in fact only the marvelous is beautiful,” writes Breton in his seminal manifesto that helped define the principles of the Surrealist movement.

The image of a man in a bowler hat with his face obscured is a recurring motif throughout Magritte’s work. The artist began experimenting with it in 1926’s Les rêveries du promeneur solitaire (The Musings of a Solitary Wanderer), and it reappears in some of his most influential pieces, including 1964’s Le fils de l’homme (The Son of Man).

“The figure came to function within Magritte’s oeuvre as a symbol of the bourgeois, of the anonymous, faceless masses, the everyday working man and that of the lone wanderer,” writes Christie’s.

Compared to other Surrealist painters, Magritte is the “most sought after internationally,” says Camu. His works often come with sky-high price tags: Two years ago, L’empire des lumières (1961) fetched £59.4 million (about $79.7 million) at auction.

Camu tells the Associated Press’ Jill Lawless that Magritte is championed to this day due to the simplicity and sharpness of his style.

“There’s no sign of religion in Magritte ever, or particular history, or anything,” he says. “They are totally conceptual, clean, powerful, disturbing, wonderful, silent pictures. They are accessible to everybody.”

L’ami Intime hasn’t been on the market since 1980, when it was purchased by collectors Gilbert and Lena Kaplan. It was last seen by the public during an exhibition in Brussels in 1998. Now, the piece is embarking on a world tour ahead of the sale. It traveled to Los Angeles and New York earlier this month and will soon continue on to Hong Kong and London.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.