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    Sale 2255

    The Modern Age: The Collection of Alice Lawrence

    5 - 6 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 58

    Rene Magritte (1898-1967)

    Exercices spirituels

    Price Realised  


    Rene Magritte (1898-1967)
    Exercices spirituels
    signed 'Magritte' (lower left); signed again, dated and titled 'MAGRITTE 1936 "EXERCICES SPIRITUELS"' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    23¾ x 28¾ in. (60.3 x 73 cm.)
    Painted in 1936

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    Exercices spirituals is the second of two canvases that Magritte painted of a female nude, a large sphere, and seascape in the beginning of 1936. The significant differences in their respective compositions illustrate the diverse treatment that the artist gave to a single theme and his expertise in creating different connotations for juxtapositions of similar objects. The first version, entitled Baigneuse du clair au somber (Sylvester, no. 406; private collection), depicts a recumbent nude whose head, with closed eyes, is turned to a black sphere on the floor of a darkened room. The only light in the scene emanates from a framed painting of a beach and seascape on the wall behind her, which also gives the appearance of being a window to the outside.

    Given the title's identification of the figure as a "bather," the painting appears to be a punning Surrealist interpretation of the genre made famous by Manet, Renoir, Cézanne and their contemporaries at the end of the 19th century, although Magritte's depiction of the seascape in the background suggests that her link to the outside world emanates from her dreaming unconscious rather than any actual proximity. The present scene, however, lends considerably more complexity to the image. Magritte has replaced the head of a now standing female nude with a light, shining sphere and placed her in an outdoor scene. This effect is heightened by a wall of anonymously rational architecture, which the artist has articulated with a radically slanted perspective, an ambiguous geometrical toy or set of weights, and a spectral, virtually camouflaged galleon sliding along the horizon. Although the nude woman seen here assumes a role similar to that in her initial incarnation (for which the artist's wife Georgette claimed to have posed), this once passive dreamer has now become a more confrontational and object-like presence. The viewer is no longer a detached and uninvolved witness to a mysterious and evocative dream, but is now faced with an challenging and perhaps even threatening hallucination.

    The mannequin-like figure and hard-edged dreamscape seen here reflect the lasting impact of the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico's pittura metafisica on Magritte's oeuvre. Indeed, David Sylvester refers to Magritte's discovery of de Chirico's Le Chant d'amour, 1914 (fig. 1), as "one of the famous epiphanies in the hagiography of modern painting" (in op. cit., 1993, p. 61). Recalling the significance of this experience in his text La ligne de vie, Magritte stated: "This triumphant poetry supplanted the stereotyped effect of traditional painting. It represented a complete break with the mental habits peculiar to artists who are prisoners of talent, virtuosity and all the little aesthetic specialties. It was a new vision through which the spectator might recognize his own isolation and hear the silence of the world" (quoted in ibid.). Furthermore, the anonymity of present female figure and her relation to an industrial yet decidedly natural if not classicizing landscape reveals Magritte's knowledge of de Chirico's larger body of work, specifically his androgynous mannequin figures of the 1920s.

    The title of the present painting is derived from the Ejercicios espirituales (1522-1524) of Saint Ignatius Loyola, which are prayer exercises designed to stimulate the mind, memory, will and imagination in order to better achieve communion with the divine. Although Magritte does not necessarily share the Christian message and spiritual intention of Loyola's text, he has set a similar task for himself, to instigate an alternate mode of thought in the viewer's mind through the suggestiveness of his imagery. He directs his viewers to exercise the powers inherent in their visual imagination and undertake a similar examination of consciousness, in order to arrive at a fuller understanding of human reality.

    (fig. 1) Giorgio de Chirico, Le chant d'amour, 1914. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BACODE 24409858


    Stéphane Cordier, Brussels (acquired from the artist, by 1938).
    Private collection, Brussels.
    Carl Laszlo, Basel (by 1966).
    Macklowe Gallery & Modernism, New York.
    Acquired from the above by the late owner, November 1988.

    Pre-Lot Text



    D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné: Oil Paintings and Objects 1931-1948, New York, 1993, vol. II, p. 223, no. 407 (illustrated).
    R. Hughes, The Portable Magritte, p. 436 (illustrated in color, p. 160).


    Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, René Magritte: peintures, objets surréalist, April-May 1936, no. 15.
    Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Les Compagnons de l'art, June-August 1938, no. 274.
    Knokke, Casino Communal, XVe festival belge d'été: L'Oeuvre de René Magritte, July-August 1962, no. 47.
    Bern, Kunsthalle, Phantastische Kunst Surrealismus, October-December 1966, p. 6, no. 72 (illustrated).
    Hanover, Kestner Gesellschaft and Zurich, Kunsthaus, René Magritte, May-July 1969, no. 35 (illustrated, p. 111).
    Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Nudes--Nus--Nackte, June-August 1984, no. 41 (illustrated in color).
    Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, René Magritte, June-November 1987, p. 183, no. 43 (illustrated; illustrated again in color).
    Lausanne, Musée Cantonale des beaux-arts, La Femme et le Surrealisme, November 1987-February 1988, p. 271, no. 8 (illustrated in color).