Executed circa 1945, Les grâces naturelles is a bold and colourful example of what René Magritte termed 'Surréalisme en plein soleil', or Surrealism in full sunlight. This picture combines one of his most-favoured motifs, the leaf-bird, with the feathered brushstrokes reminiscent of the Impressionists. This creates a tension that shows the Belgian Surrealist turning expectations on their heads. For, by the early 1940s, Surrealism was still considered a rebellion, especially during the censorship of the Occupation period. Impressionism was considered bourgeois, and so for Magritte to select this new style was considered a step backwards, an insult, by many of his former followers and admirers. By contrast, Magritte was hugely pleased with these works, to the extent that he took great risks to show them in an underground exhibition as early as 1943.
Magritte's satisfaction with the 'Surréalisme en plein soleil' that fills Les grâces naturelles was in part due to the outrage that he had managed to cause amongst his most ardent advocates. After all, Surrealism should shock, and he felt that his following had grown complacent, too used to knowing what to expect, to variations upon a theme. He was also glad to bring some light into a world that was racked with the turmoil of the Second World War. The sunlit Surrealism of Les grâces naturelles was humorous, wry and at the same time bright and therefore jolly, a contrast with the state of the world at the time. However, for Magritte, the greatest success in these pictures was created in the tension between the realism implied by Impressionism, an aesthetic that speaks of pleinairisme, of capturing a moment and the motif itself, an impossible Surreal device that was the product of Magritte's own ever-fertile imagination. Combining Impressionist landscape and Impressionist still life, Magritte has in fact painted a picture of his leaf-birds, strange chimerae that combine the implied flight and lightness of birds with the contradictory rootedness and stability of plants.
Magritte summed up the main tension at the heart of Les grâces naturelles and its sister works by explaining:
'For the period I call 'Surrealism in full sunlight,' I am trying to join together two mutually exclusive things:
'1) a feeling of levity, intoxication, happiness, which depends on a certain mood and on an atmosphere that certain Impressionists-- or rather, Impressionism in general-- have managed to render in painting. Without Impressionism, I do not believe we would know this feeling of real objects perceived through colour and nuances, and free of all classical reminiscences... 'and,
2) a feeling of the mysterious existence of objects (which should not depend upon classical or literary reminiscences), which is experienced only by means of a certain clairvoyance' (Magritte, quoted in H. Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, trans. R. Miller, New York, 1977, p. 186).