René Magritte's Torse nu dans les nuages (circa. 1937) leads Bonhams sale of The Collection of Amalia de Schulthess on Tuesday, December 7, in New York. The work, which has remained unseen for the last 70 years – and has never before been offered at auction – has an estimate of $6,000,000 - 9,000,000.
Combining the classical and the deeply surreal, Torse nu dans les nuages includes two of René Magritte's signature motifs: clouds and a female torso. The work dates from circa 1937, during the height of the Surrealist movement. It comes to Bonhams from the distinguished private collection of Amalia de Schulthess (1918-2021) and leads the dedicated single-owner sale of selected works from her impressive collection. Torse nu dans les nuages was notably included in the 1948 Magritte exhibition at the Copley Galleries in Los Angeles.
Molly Ott Ambler, Head of Fine Art, Americas, said: "Torse nu dans les nuages is a highly significant painting within René Magritte's oeuvre, exemplary of his first Surrealist phase. Strange and otherworldly, it is a pictorial puzzle that reconfigures expectations and offers an alternative representation of reality. It is quite simply a Surrealist masterpiece, an impressive meditation on the complex nature of spatial and perceptual experience."
René Magritte, who was born in Belgium 1898, spent three years in Paris from 1927-1930, where he developed a close friendship with one of the founders of Surrealism, André Breton. In 1928, Magritte exhibited his work alongside other key figures of the movement, including Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, and he soon became a leading member of the Surrealist group. Though he experimented with different styles, Magritte would continue to depict archetypal Surrealist motifs in his signature deadpan manner up until his death in 1967. His compositions are rife with irony and conviction, philosophy, and fantasy.
Another highlight of the Amalia de Schulthess collection is Figurine entre deux maisons by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), which has an estimate of $1,200,000-1,800,000.
Amalia de Schulthess, the Collector
Torse nu dans les nuages (1937) by René Magritte hails from the private collection of Amalia de Schulthess (1918, Oberaarch, Switzerland – 2021, Santa Monica, California).
Amalia de Schulthess grew up in Thurgau, Switzerland and studied at the State College Trogen, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and the Kunstgewerbeschule, Zurich. She came from a family of dedicated art collectors and patrons. Indeed, her father was closely acquainted with Paul Klee, and the artist paid frequent visits to their home. Klee was a key source of inspiration to Amalia; he encouraged her to express herself and commit to the pursuit of creating original artworks.
In 1941, Amalia emigrated to the United States to marry her fiancé, Hans de Schulthess (1918, Zurich, Switzerland – 1962, Vienna, Austria), who was born to a wealthy banking family. Amalia met Hans while studying in Trogen. Their parents did not approve of the match, and it was Amalia who suggested the bold move to America. The couple was first based in New York and then ultimately settled in Beverly Hills.
While in New York (1941-1943), Amalia renewed her friendship with the artist Piet Mondrian and became his patron. She continued to make her own art, and this connection would prove to be as influential to her artistic trajectory as her early contact with Klee. Hans was also deeply involved in the arts as a patron and collector, and gifted numerous works to the prestigious Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) during his lifetime. Tragically, he died in an automobile accident at the age of 44. By this time, Amalia and Hans had divorced but were still close friends.
Amalia and Hans both devoted their lives to supporting artists and arts institutions, as well as building a formidable collection. In parallel, Amalia concentrated on developing her own artistic practice. For most of her adult life, she created her art in California and New Mexico.
Solo shows of Amalia's work were held at the Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe (1956); the Esther Robles Gallery, Los Angeles (1956 and 1962); the Rose Rabow Gallery, San Francisco (1960); and the David Cole Gallery, San Francisco (1962). After the 1960s, Amalia turned her attention from painting to making sculpture, and worked in Florence for a decade.
Amalia was represented by the Esther Robles Gallery, and it appears that her connection to this space as an artist was complemented by her role as a collector. She acquired Torse nu dans les nuages by René Magritte from the dealer Esther Robles. The duality of Amalia's position in the art world is perfectly encapsulated in this event.
Amalia de Schulthess died on May 28, 2021, in Santa Monica, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy.