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René Magritte (1898-1967)
René Magritte (1898-1967)

La peine perdue

Ren Magritte (1898-1967)
La peine perdue
signed 'Magritte' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated '"LA PEINE PERDUE" Magritte 1948' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
39.3/8 x 31.7/8 in. (100 x 81 cm.)
Painted in 1962
Acquired directly from the artist by Harry Torczyner on 1 August 1962.
A.M. Hammacher, Ren Magritte, New York, 1973, p. 154, pl. 45 (illustrated in color).
H. Torczyner, Ren Magritte: signes et images, Paris, 1977, p. 15.
"L'avocat aux vingt-cinq Magritte," Supplment Arts du Figaro Magazine, no. 476, 12 May 1989 (illustrated in color).
Letter from R. Magritte to H. Torczyner, 19 April 1962, in H. Torczyner, L'ami Magritte: correspondance et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, p. 38 (illustrated in color), pp. 210, 216, 218, 22-223, 234 (illustrated), 285.
Letter from R. Magritte to H. Torczyner, 2 June 1962, in H. Torczyner, L'ami Magritte: correspondance et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, no. 237.
Letter from R. Magritte to H. Torczyner, 28 July 1962, in H. Torczyner, L'ami Magritte: correspondance et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, no. 243.
H. Torczyner, L'ami Magritte: correspondance et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, p. 218.
D. Sylvester, S. Whitfield and M. Raeburn, Ren Magritte, Catalogue Raisonn, London, 1993, vol. III (Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes 1949-1967), pp. 362-363, no. 948 (illustrated, p. 362).
R. M. Jonger, Ren Magritte ou La pense image de l'invisible, Brussels, 1994, pp. 262-264, fig. 86 (illustrated).
R. Magritte, Magritte/Torczyner: Letters Between Friends, New York, 1994, p. 70 (illustrated).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Magritte, December 1977, no. 25.
New York, Arnold Herstand Gallery, Ren Magritte: Paintings, November-December 1986.

Lot Essay

Torczyner proposed the title of this painting to Magritte, enjoying an anecdote that a street name in Brussels (called originally 'La Peine Perdue' because of annual rebuilding of a bridge after flooding) had been corrupted anecdotally to 'pain perdu' ('French toast').

It is one of a series of paintings made in 1961 and 1962 using the elements of curtains, clouds and a bell. At Easter of that year, Torczyner had hoped to buy a similar work, Le beau monde (Sylvester, no. 944; private collection), but it was completed and sold the day before he saw it. He therefore commissioned Magritte to make a similar work for him in the hope it would be ready for the exhibition of his collection planned for Minneapolis later in the year. It was finished at the end of July (too late, it turned out, for the exhibition) and delivered by Magritte, already framed, in August. The date of 1948 in the inscription on the work was intended to confuse Magritte's dealer Iolas and was used by Magritte when he sold works behind the dealer's back.

Discussing the delicate, evocative blues in this composition, Hammacher wrote in 1973:

Wasted Effort is a fairly late and complicated imaginative composition in blues. Much of the earlier work is present--even the ball with the slit in it, the transformed offspring of the horse's harness bells. The mighty sky with its fleets of clouds-- which would form a background, if they did not appear again where we find the cutout curtains or theater wings--has undergone a change of tone. One no longer thinks of reality when seeing this triple version of clouds. Here Magritte has achieved a symphonic orchestration of something remembered, calling it 'clouds and sky.' On either side of the grey-blue plane of the stage--for that is what it is--stand two blue curtains, as partitions in the same space, in which they are not hanging and hardly even standing, but simply existing, with a function all their own. In this orchestration they are rather like the opening bars, a modest overture, leading to the main theme in the center. (A.M. Hammacher, op. cit., p. 155)

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