Magritte’s Masked Apples to Set a New Auction Record for Sotheby’s France

‘La Valse hesitation,’ which has not been publicly seen since 1979, is expected to sell for between €10 and €15 million—the highest-ever estimate for a work of art at the French arm of the auction house.

Master of Surrealism René Magritte had a thing for apples. It wasn’t a partiality for the fruit that inspired the painter but rather his penchant for representing the usual in unusual ways. “Those of my pictures that show very familiar objects, an apple, for example, pose questions,” the artist said, as quoted in H. Torczyner’s Magritte, published in 1977. “We no longer understand when we look at an apple; its mysterious quality has thus been evoked.”

A painting of two apples wearing masks
La Valse Hésitation (1955) by René Magritte will go on the block in October. Courtesy Sotheby's

We can surmise that Magritte thoroughly enjoyed posing such questions, given how often he painted apples. There’s the mysterious apple that obscures the man in both The Son of Man and Taste of the invisible—the viewer is left to wonder whether he or it is the subject. There are two versions of The listening room, each with its looming and ostensibly silent apple dominating the space. The principle of Archimedes (Le principe d’ Archimède) considers physics with apples, while Fine realities uses one mammoth apple to consider the relationships between objects.

Then there are the masked apples, of which he painted at least eight variations. Magritte painted the first of these for a 1946 cover of View magazine, and from there, he painted these masked apples singly and in pairs, in sunshine and in shadow. They’re playful, yet menacing, looming eyelessly over desolate desert landscapes—at once inviting and strange.

One such pair is set to go on the block at Sotheby’s this October in a sale of works showcasing the modernist movements across Europe. La Valse hesitation, painted in 1958, hasn’t been seen in public since it was shown as part of an exhibition at the Galerie Isy Brachot in 1979. Since then, the painting has been held in three different private collections in Belgium. The October sale marks the first time the work will be on the open market, and Sotheby’s expects it will sell for between €10 and €15 million—the highest-ever pre-sale estimate for a single lot offered by Sotheby's France.

Prior to the sale, La Valse hesitation, which features masked apples shrouded in shadow under a bright blue sky, will be exhibited in Paris, Brussels and New York through September and in London in early October—a rare treat for fans of the Surrealist’s work. “Magritte is one of the most beloved painters of the 20th century, and his popularity remains as buoyant as ever, reflecting the utterly modern nature of his works,” said Thomas Bompard, Vice President of Sotheby’s France, in a statement. “We are thrilled to be offering a work of such rarity and visual power, from the period that is the most sought-after by today’s collectors.”

Magritte’s Masked Apples to Set a New Auction Record for Sotheby’s France