The Late Gilbert Kaplan’s René Magritte Masterpiece Could Fetch $64M at Auction

"L'ami intime" (The Intimate Friend) hasn't been shown in public since a 1998 exhibit in Brussels.

Painting of a man facing away, with a glass of wine and baguette floating behind his back
René Magritte, L’ami intime, (1958). Courtesy Christie's

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Surrealist Manifesto, a 1924 text penned by writer André Breton that characterized the revolutionary cultural movement. To mark the occasion, Christie’s is offering up a masterpiece from Belgian artist René Magritte, one of the movement’s key figures.

Depicting a baguette and a wine glass floating behind the back of a bowler-hatted man, Magritte’s 1958 L’ami intime (The Intimate Friend) showcases the painter’s characteristic use of anonymous figures and ordinary objects placed in unusual contexts. It will lead Christie’s The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale, an annual auction in March dedicated to surrealist and Dada art.

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The work in question was last offered up for auction in 1980 and hasn’t been shown to the public since a 1998 exhibit at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels. It is estimated to sell for between £30 million ($38 million) and £50 million ($63 million).

“René Magritte, of all surrealist artists, is the most sought after internationally,” said Olivier Camu, deputy chairman for impressionist and modern art at Christie’s London, in a statement, adding that L’ami intime constitutes one of the most significant Magritte works to appear at auction since the 1998 sale of the collection of Harry Torczyner, a friend and advisor of Magritte’s.

The work also belongs to one of Magritte’s iconic painting series, according to Camu, and is comparable to the artist’s sequence of Empire des lumières works. A 1961 piece from the latter series realized nearly $80 million at Sotheby’s in 2020, setting an artist auction record for the surrealist painter.

The art collection of Gilbert Kaplan

Ahead of the auction, Magritte’s painting will be displayed in Los Angeles, New York, Hong Kong and London. It comes from the collection of the late financial publisher Gilbert Kaplan and his wife Lena.

Kaplan made his fortune by founding Institutional Investor, a financial magazine he sold in the 1980s for more than $70 million. But Kaplan, who died in 2016, was also celebrated for his unexpected forays into the arts and culture sphere.

Over three decades, he amassed a collection of more than 100 prints by leading surrealist artists like Magritte, Man Ray, Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. Before heading to auction at Christie’s in 2016, the prints were exhibited across institutions like the Albertina in Vienna, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the McMullen Museum of Art in Boston. In 1982, Kaplan also helped prepare a catalogue raisonné of Magritte’s prints alongside dealer Timothy Baum.

He wasn’t just a fan of surrealism, but an avid admirer of composer Gustav Mahler. Kaplan’s collection, for example, included both an Auguste Rodin bust of Mahler and the composer’s Second Symphony manuscript, the latter of which sold for a staggering £4.5 million ($5.6 million) in a 2016 Sotheby’s auction. As Kaplan once told the East Hampton Star, if surrealism is defined as “’that point where the real and unreal meet’ there is much in Mahler’s music that can meet this definition.”

Mahler’s Second Symphony had long served as an inspiration for Kaplan. In 1982, he rented out New York’s Avery Fisher Hall and hired the American Symphony and Westminster Symphonic Choir to conduct Maher’s symphony for the 15th anniversary of Institutional Investor. Following a rave review for Kaplan’s turn as orchestral conductor, he went on to conduct the Second Symphony in more than 100 live performances around the globe.

He also established the Kaplan Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving Mahler’s music, and a fellowship program at Harvard’s music department, in addition to lecturing at Juilliard and serving on Carnegie Hall’s board for more than thirty years.

The Late Gilbert Kaplan’s René Magritte Masterpiece Could Fetch $64M at Auction