is the master of the
image. He’s depicted a gigantic green apple filling an otherwise empty room; shown a train engine with a full head of steam inexplicably barreling out from the center of a fireplace in an ordinary living room. These indelible images have made him the king of the double take, and one of the most popular artists in the world.
Despite his widespread popularity, Magritte is collected in-depth by only a handful of people—around ten collectors worldwide. Wilbur Ross, the current Secretary of Commerce in the Trump Administration, is the most public about his Magritte obsession. Collectors in this group understand the art historical importance of the artist’s early work and appreciate the linguistic jokes that he often incorporated into his paintings. There’s also a second group of buyers, primarily Western collectors, who are interested in owning something with subject matter that clearly identifies itself as a Magritte. They seek instantly recognizable images because they are only likely to buy one work by the artist, and tend to gravitate towards works that are aesthetically beautiful, or perhaps, as these are mostly male buyers, feature a naked woman.
Regardless of what type of work they covet, Magritte collectors can buy with confidence. They are very unlikely to be offered a fake, not only because the artist has been the subject of an exhaustive catalogue raisonné (as is the case for many other artists), but because since its formation in 1998, the Magritte Foundation has actively engaged with players throughout the art market to ensure that fakes are sniffed out and removed. The Foundation’s ongoing engagement with the market is worth highlighting at a time when many other artists’ foundations and estates are backing away from authenticating work.
Born in 1898, Magritte spent most of his life in his native Belgium. He fell in love with art-making early, starting art classes when he was about twelve, and attending art school when he turned eighteen. By the time he was 28, in 1926, he had hit on his distinctive style, and continued to paint in this vein until the late 1930s. During this time, Magritte also started a small advertising agency with his brother.