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‘A new way of seeing the world’: Magritte’s Le domaine d’Arnheim

Specialist Olivier Camu on a work that ‘opens your eyes’ — a highlight of Christie’s The Art of the Surreal  sale on 28 February in London

‘Magritte opens your eyes to a new way of seeing the world,’ comments specialist Olivier Camu, discussing the Belgian Surrealist’s 1938 painting Le domaine d’Arnheim (The Domain of Arnheim). The work is a highlight of Christie’s The Art of the Surreal sale on 28 February, where it will be offered alongside Magritte’s seminal work La corde sensible.

Le domaine d’Arnheim is the first example of a motif that would become one of the most enduring and significant of Magritte’s career: the magisterial eagle-shaped mountain. This composition, in which the mountain is set against two eggs, develops an idea first explored in the artist’s 1932 painting in gouache, Les Affinitiés Électives (Elective Affinities): strange yet possible associations between apparently very different entities. 

René Magritte (1898-1967), Le domaine d’Arnheim (The Domain of Arnheim), 1938. Oil on canvas. 28⅝ x 39⅜ in (72.8 x 100 cm). Estimate £6,500,000-8,500,000. This work is offered in The Art of the Surreal sale on 28 February at Christie’s in London

René Magritte (1898-1967), Le domaine d’Arnheim (The Domain of Arnheim), 1938. Oil on canvas. 28⅝ x 39⅜ in (72.8 x 100 cm). Estimate: £6,500,000-8,500,000. This work is offered in The Art of the Surreal sale on 28 February at Christie’s in London

The idea for Les Affinitiés Électives, says Camu, came to Magritte in a moment that can be described as a ‘major event’ in his career. ‘In 1932, the artist woke up and saw a bird in a cage,’ the specialist explains. ‘He fell asleep again, and dreamt that the bird had been replaced by a big egg that filled the cage.’ That improbable yet powerful association between distantly related objects became a guiding principle of Magritte’s art. 

‘[Le domaine d’Arnheim] is a painting of great contrasts,’ continues Camu, who compares the precise, ‘prosaic’ manner in which Magritte paints two eggs with the sweeping, ‘romantic’ depiction of mountains behind. ‘He’s having fun subverting traditional genres; normally you have landscape painting and still life painting. Here, he mixes the two together, fusing genres.’

There is a magical beauty to this imposing landscape, which, although imagined, is not in fact implausible. Indeed, in the eggs and mountain suggestive of the missing eagle, there is a poetic logic which makes a lasting impact on our perception of reality. 

Formerly owned by the great Surrealist art collector Edward James, Le domaine d’Arnheim is a work that exemplifies Magritte’s ability to display reality as never before.