Christie's to sell early Magritte The hunters at the edge of night

Christie’s is to offer what has been described as the most important early work by Rene Magritte to come to auction in over a generation. Going under the hammer at its annual evening Sale The Art of the Surreal, Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit (The hunters at the edge of night), which was executed in 1928, is expected to sell for anywhere between £6 million to £9 million.
This captivating painting came at a time of great productivity for the artist in his new field, a phase that resulted in some very iconic works. Although it had only been a few years since Magritte had begun to actively move away from his early foray into avant-garde styles, which had, between 1918 and 1924, been largely dominated by cubist and futurist approaches to modern art, he was already carving a reputation as one of surrealism’s ultimate masters.
The work of Greek-born Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico has been instrumental in this break, as his metaphysical paintings suggested to the young Magritte that untold possibilities could be realised if art was engaged with at a more subconscious level. This approach made the most sense to him. As he once said: “To be a surrealist means barring from your mind all remembrance of what you have seen, and being always on the lookout for what has never been.”
What is distinct about Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit is that its scale is fairly rare at this fruitful time. For example, approximately only one fifth of his work in 1928 saw him deliver works to this size (81cm x 116cm), indicating perhaps his own recognition of the importance of what he was painting.
What can we determine from the image of two hunters who look as though they are struggling to free themselves of a curiously concrete edifice that is alien to the open landscape they occupy, the sun setting in the distant horizon? What happens when they become unstuck, for although the landscape is free of such intrusions as grey structure they are attached to, it appears absolutely barren? We can only ever speculate.
Perhaps we can learn from Magritte himself. Although speaking about his breathtaking The Son of Man (1964), his comments about the unknown can apply to a lot of his work.
“Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see,” he said. “There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.”
Other works to be auctioned include Joan Miro’s Femmes et Oiseaux (Women and Birds), Paul Delvaux’s La Vénus Endormie and Carlo Carra’s Solitudine (Solitude), as well as others from De Chirico, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Arshile Gorky, Man Ray and Dorothea Tanning.
Christie’s The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale takes place on February 4th 2014 in London.
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