René Magritte (1898-1976)
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René Magritte (1898-1976)

La victoire

René Magritte (1898-1976)
La victoire
signed 'magritte' (lower right); signed, dated and titled '"LA VICTOIRE" MAGRITTE 1939' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28½ x 21 1/8in. (72.5 x 53.5cm.)
Painted in 1939
Claude Spaak, Choisel.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
Mr and Mrs Albert Lewin, New York; sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 20 October 1966, lot 79.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
R. Passeron, René Magritte, Paris, 1970 (illustrated in colour p. 23).
D. Sylvester (ed.), René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Oil Paintings and Objects 1931-1948, Antwerp, 1993, no. 470 (illustrated p. 274).
New York, Hugo Gallery, René Magritte, April 1947, no. 12.
Beverley Hills, Copley Galleries, Magritte, Sept. 1948, no. 28.
Dallas, Museum for Contemporary Arts, René Magritte in America, Dec. 1960-Jan. 1961, no. 15. This exhibition later travelled to Houston, Museum of Fine Arts.
New York, Albert Landry Galleries, René Magritte in New York Private Collections, Oct.-Nov. 1961, no. 34.
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Surrealism: Two Private Eyes, June-Sept. 1999, no. 134 (illustrated in the catalogue p. 198).
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Lot Essay

The artist's friend and patron Harry Torczyner wrote that "Magritte's work is laid out in our minds like a royal road whose milestones are indicated by certain paintings". La Victoire (Victory) is surely one of those milestones. Painted in 1939 it is the most poetic and instantly memorable realisation in the artist's oeuvre of the motif of the door.

The door and the window are often used as metaphors for a picture in Magritte's work, they mark the intersection between one reality and another, in much the same way that a painting does. By 1939 when La Victoire (Victory) was painted, Magritte had refined the aims of his art into the search for the hidden poetry of objects and for what he called their "elective affinities". For Magritte this was a hidden association between two objects that when revealed pictorially achieved strange and surprising results; results that also made an uncanny and recognisable sense in much the same way as the poetic association of seemingly unconnected words can make sense. Magritte's uniting of the cage and the egg or the glass of water on top of the umbrella for example are perfect examples of this systematic approach that Magritte took to the dismantling of the viewer's visual preconceptions in his work. In La Victoire Magritte unites three elements into one powerful and, for him, surprisingly romantic image. "The problem of the door called for an opening one could pass through," Magritte declared in a lecture given in November 1938, "In la réponse imprévue (The Unexpected Answer), I showed a closed door in a room; in the door an irregular-shaped opening revealed the night." Painted in the following year, La Victoire develops this more bizarre and visually awkward opening in a more logical and straightforward way by depicting an open door transposed to the coast and depicted in such a way that it becomes a part of the landscape it shows. As Magritte knew, the poetic mystery of a work intensifies when the distortions from what one judges as "normal" are set at a minimum.

The point where the land meets the sky and where the sky meets the earth is one of mystic significance and one that has particular resonance in the human mind. As so powerfully invoked by Caspar David Friedrich's Monk by the sea of 1809, the vast horizon line made by the meeting of land and sea and sea and sky lends itself to and indeed provokes a contemplation of the sublime. In La Victoire Magritte marks this meeting point between the three elements with an open door - a device that seems to invite the viewer into a new world of possibility. Like the mystic meeting place that it marks, this door, like Huxley's "Doors of Perception" is also a mystic portal. It is not a material entity, as is reflected by the fact that it seems to be actually materialising out of the sky, sea and sand of the landscape and only its brass handle seems to be tangible and "real". The same is true for the rather whimsical cloud that enters, quietly like a child or a ghost, through the door's opening, seeming to promise much and inviting the viewer to enter a new "enchanted domain".

Such is the magic of Magritte's art that this exquisite cloud becomes the dominant personality of the painting, a clear character who speaks gently and wryly of an alternate reality. Its positioning between the two realms is what makes it the key element in the painting. Magritte's door, like Marcel Duchamp's Door from his apartment in 11 rue Larrey, manifests a clear ambiguity in the way that it stands ajar, and it is this ambiguity that the cloud both announces and transcends. Perhaps originating in Magritte's mind from paintings such as Le voyage sans fin (The Endless Voyage) or L'après-midi d'été (The Summer Afternoon) by Giorgio de Chirico, where similar lone cumuli are shown framed by oblong picture-like portals, here, the cloud becomes an active element in the painting, invading or exiting through the passive door that has appeared mirage-like on the sandy shore. A favourite motif of Magritte's because it is, by its own nature, an enigma, the cloud here seems, paradoxically, to be the least enigmatic element in the painting.


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