Why Magritte was like a standup comedian

It is 117 years since the birth of the Belgian painter René Magritte. The 117th anniversary is the most important for any surrealist, so we can expect events, exhibitions and retrospectives throughout Belgium this summer. Everyone will wear bowler hats and hold apples in front of their faces, tubas will be set ablaze, businessmen will rain from the sky, and the mountaintops of Belgium will transform into giant eagles.

OK, so that’s probably not going to happen. I’m not sure Belgium’s got the mountains for it. What definitely did happen, earlier this month, was a sale of nine Magritte paintings, as part of Christie’s annual Art of the Surreal evening in London. Magritte is currently a darling of the market, says Olivier Camu of Christie’s, who curated the sale. He’s an artist with universal appeal, “free from all cultural, historical, religious or national associations. A pure conceptual artist.” That said, it’s not always easy to put your finger on what those concepts are. In Souvenir de Voyage, a masked apple stares at us, eyelessly, from a deserted beach. It’s an unsettling image, one that doesn’t straightforwardly “mean” anything. Which didn’t stop it fetching £2.6m.

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