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

L'empire des lumires

Details
Ren Magritte (1898-1967)
L'empire des lumires
signed 'Magritte' (lower right)
oil on canvas
19.5/8 x 15 in. (50 x 40 cm.)
Painted in 1958
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by Harry Torczyner in August 1958.
Literature
S. Tillim, "Month in Review," Arts Magazine, December 1961, p. 45. Letter from R. Magritte to H. Torczyner, 8 October 1958, in H.R. Passeron, Ren Magritte, Paris, 1970, p. 33 (illustrated in color).
Letter from R. Magritte to H. Torczyner, 20 October 1958, in H. Torczyner, L'ami Magritte: correspondance et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, no. 51.
Postcard from R. Magritte to H. Torczyner, 18 June 1963, in H. Torczyner, L'ami Magritte: correspondance et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, no. 259.
Letter from R. Magritte to H. Torczyner, 24 June 1963, in H. Torczyner, L'ami Magritte: correspondance et souvenits, Antwerp, 1992, no. 280.
H. van Nieuwenhove, "Le domaine enchant de Harry Torczyner," Style, no. 9, September 1992, p. 27 (illustrated in color).
H. Torczyner, L'ami Magritte: correspondance et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, p. 33 (illustrated in color), p. 81 (illustrated), p. 86.
D. Sylvester, S. Whitfield and M. Raeburn, Ren Magritte, Catalogue Raisonn, London, 1993, vol. III (Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes 1949-1967), p. 294, no. 880 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, The Vision of Ren Magritte, September-October 1962, no. 42.

Lot Essay

L'empire des lumires is perhaps Magritte's most popular image. He first painted a version of it in 1949 (Sylvester, no. 709; private collection) and produced numerous variations of it between then and the end of his career. The present version, commissioned by Torczyner in June 1958, was completed by August of that year.

Magritte explained something of the origin of the image in a radio interview in 1956:

What is represented in the picture The Dominion of Light are the things I thought of, to be precise, a nocturnal landscape and a skyscape such as can be seen in broad daylight. The landscape suggests night and the skyscape day. This evocation of night and day seems to me to have the power to surprise and delight us. I call this power: poetry. (Quoted in D. Sylvester et al., op. cit., p. 145)

It was Paul Noug who suggested the title of the image. Marin commented that the title was often misunderstood and mistranslated to mean 'empire' rather than 'dominion': "English, Flemish and German translators take it in the sense of 'territory,' whereas the fundamental meaning is obviously 'power,' 'dominance'" (quoted in ibid., p. 145).

Andr Breton wrote:

Ren Magritte's work and thought could not fail to come out at that opposite pole from the zone of facility--and of capitulation--that goes by the name of 'chiaroscuro.' To him, inevitably, fell the task of separating the 'subtle' from the 'dense,' without which effort no transmutation is possible. To attack this problem called for all his audacity--to extract simultaneously what is light from the shadow and what is shadow from the light (L'empire des lumires). In this work the violence done to accepted ideas and conventions is such (I have this from Magritte) that most of those who go by quickly think they saw the stars in the daytime sky. In Magritte's entire performance there is present to a high degree what Apollinaire called "genuine good sense, which is, of course, that of the great poets." (A. Breton, "The Breadth of Rene Magritte," in Magritte, exh. cat., Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, 1964, n.p.)
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