Rene Magritte (1898-1967)
On occasion, Christie’s has a direct financial int… Read more Property from the Georges and Lois de Menil Charitable Remainder Trust
Rene Magritte (1898-1967)

L'empire des lumières

Rene Magritte (1898-1967)
L'empire des lumières
signed 'Magritte' (lower right); titled and dated '"L'EMPIRE DES LUMIÈRES"1952' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 31½ in. (100 x 80 cm.)
Painted in 1952
Iolas Gallery, New York.
Dominique and Jean de Menil, New York (commissioned from the artist and acquired through the above).
By descent from the above to the present owners.
Letter from A. Iolas to R. Magritte, 23 June 1952.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 9 July 1952.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 30 July 1952.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 1 October 1952.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 8 January 1953.
Letter from R. Magritte to M. Mariën, 27 July 1952, in R. Magritte (ed. M. Mariën), La Destination: Lettres à Marcel Mariën (1937-1962), Brussels, 1977, no. 258.
Magritte, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1992, no. 111 (illustrated in color).
D. Sylvester, S. Whitfield and M. Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1993, vol. III, p. 200, no. 781 (illustrated).
(?)New York, Iolas Gallery, René Magritte, March-April, 1953.
Dallas, Museum for Contemporary Art and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, René Magritte in America, December 1960-March 1961, no. 42.
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, The Vision of René Magritte, September-October 1962, no. 36.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, René Magritte, March-June 1998, p. 178, no. 175 (illustrated in color, p. 179).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (no. 54), Magritte, August 1999-September 2000, p. 80, no. 59 (illustrated in color).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie’s has a direct financial interest in lots consigned for sale. This interest may include guaranteeing a minimum price to the consignor which is secured solely by consigned property. This is such a lot.
Sale room notice
Additional EXHIBITION:
London, The Hayward Gallery; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Houston, The Menil Collection; and The Art Institute of Chicago, May 1992-May 1993, no. 111 (illustrated in color).

Additional LITERATURE:
B. Levin, "Seeing is Disbelieving", The Times, 23 July, 1992, p. 12.
M. Kimmelman, "Magritte in His Defiance of Life", The New York Times, 11 September 1992, p. C26.

Lot Essay

The Surrealists believed in the power of the subconscious. They considered it a repository of the dark and negative wills inherent in human nature, and the well-spring of creative activity. In an effort to render the dream concrete, Magritte turned toward a plastic figuration that deviated from the traditional beaux-arts academia. In this and other works by the artist, Magritte employed techniques that recall the characteristics of Freudian dream interpretation: bizarre juxtapositions, and irrational arrangements of perspective, lighting and atmosphere. Creating an element of subversion that so many of the Surrealists propagated, Magritte explored his subconscious - constantly awakening and reviving dreams.

The present work belongs to a series of oils and goauches based on the contrast between daylight and darkness. While Magritte's concerns lay deep within our use of language and our perceptions of reality, the concept intrigued Magritte. He once remarked, "I got the idea that night and day exist together, that they are one. This is reasonable, or at the very least it's in keeping with our knowledge: in the world, night always exists at the same time as day (Just as sadness always exists in some people at the same time as hapiness in others). But such ideas are not poetic. What is poetic is the visible image of the picture" (Letter from Magritte to M. Mariën, 27 July 1952; see S. Whitfield, Magritte, London, 1992, no. 111).

Magritte further explained 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 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. Sylvster et al., op. cit., p. 145)

Perhaps his most popular image, the title was suggested by one of the founders of the Surrealist movement, Paul Nougé. While the success of the title L'empire des lumières lay in its expression of the ambivalent nature of reality itself, 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'" (M. Mariën quoted in ibid., p. 145).

As André Breton wrote:

René 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 lumières. 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 René Magritte", in Magritte, exh. cat., Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, 1964)

Invariably Surrealist landscapes are wrought with contradictions that are intended to arouse wonder as they defy comprehension. Though they may seem to spurn suggestions of a future and an ultimate order, L'empire des lumières succeeds in reminding the viewer of the recurring, inescapable paradoxes of life itself.

In 1950, Dominique and Jean de Menil donated the second completed version of L'empire des lumières to The Museum of Modern Art in New York (Sylvester 723). It met with great critical and public acclaim, and in 1952 the de Menils commissioned Magritte to paint the present work, the fourth completed version of this subject. Introduced by Alexander Iolas to many of the Surrealist artists, including Magritte, the de Menils assembled a vast collection of their paintings, sculptures and objects. Reluctant to be labeled as "collectors", the de Menils were actively and personally engaged with their art and emotionally powerful patrons who fostered the development of many artists. Dominique's claim of not to "know what Surrealism is" now seems redundant, as the de Menils built one of the most renowned collections in this field over the next forty years.

(fig. 1) René Magritte, circa 1960.

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