Record sale for Magritte at London auction: Sotheby's
"L'Empire des lumieres" by Rene Magritte is described by London auction house Sotheby's as 'a masterpiece of 20th century art' (Tolga Akmen AFP)

"L'Empire des lumieres" was sold for £59.4 million ($79.4 million, 71.4 million euros) in London on Wednesday, shattering the record for a work by Belgian artist Rene Magritte.

The Surrealist work, described by London auction house Sotheby's as "a masterpiece of 20th century art", had a guide price in excess of $60 million.

The previous record for a Magritte was held by "Le principe du plaisir", which sold for $26.8 million at Sotheby's in New York in November 2018.

"L'Empire des lumieres" -- the empire or dominion of lights in English -- is one of the most defining images of the Surrealist movement.

The trees of its foreground are in shadow, as if at night, but the residential house of its mid-ground is reflected in the light of dawn or dusk, while the background is the daylight of a cloudy blue sky.

Sotheby's said the "uncanny combination... is typical of Magritte's unsettling Surrealist imagery, in which two seemingly incompatible things are brought together to create a 'false reality'".

The tableau had been in the family of Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet since it was painted for her in 1961. She appeared in a number of Magritte's greatest works.

It has been exhibited worldwide in Rome, Paris, Vienna, Milan, Seoul, Edinburgh and San Francisco, and was on loan to the Magritte Museum in Brussels from 2009 to 2020.

Sotheby's also called the painting "arguably the most cinematic of all of Magritte's oeuvre".

"Testament to its arresting power, the work even provided inspiration for a scene in the 1973 Golden Globe-winning classic 'The Exorcist'," it added in a statement.

© 2022 AFP