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

La clairvoyance

René Magritte (1898-1967)
La clairvoyance
signed 'Magritte' (upper right); inscribed 'La Mémoire' (on the reverse); signed, titled, dated and inscribed '"LA CLAIRVOYANCE" MAGRITTE 1937 cordialement à Michel et Roger Stallaerts René Magritte juillet 1966' (on the reverse of the frame)
gouache, colored crayon and pastel on paper
16½ x 11 5/8 in. (42 x 29.5 cm.)
Executed in 1965
Margaret Krebs, Brussels (probably acquired from the artist).
Private collection, Brussels (acquired from the above circa 1966).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 3 February 2004, lot 67.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Letter from Magritte to Kahmen, 27 January 1965, in Magritte Ecrits, p. 177.
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte, catalogue raisonné, London, 1994, vol. IV, p. 281, no. 1578 (illustrated in color; with incorrect dimensions).
Paris, Galerie d'Orsay, Les Peintres Surréalistes. Delvaux, Ensor, Labisse, Magritte..., 1999, no. 10 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

A torso, without arms or head, poses before an idyllic landscape reminiscent of a Mediterranean island. The torso is no sculptural fragment, though, but appears to be made of living, breathing impossible flesh. In La clairvoyance, executed in 1965, Magritte has portrayed the historical world of ancient Greece that produced the fragmentary statuary that fills so many museums as a place inhabited by a fragmentary woman. This is a retrospective justification, perversely implying that the armless and headless statues that we see today were taken from life--that they are the result of design and not hazard. In this assault on our customary understanding of our universe and its laws and rules, Magritte demands that his viewer take a fresh view at the reality to which we are all too accustomed, peeling the scales from our eyes to reveal the everyday world as a place of infinite hidden wonders.

In 1965, Volker Kahmen had suggested that Magritte create an image of the Vénus de Milo as though it were made of the granite that features in many of the Belgian artist's images. Instead, Magritte wrote back with a better idea, explaining that he would portray the statue as though it were made of flesh: "The sudden absence of stone, where stone really exists, and the presence, however, of the form that the stone embodied, must necessarily evoke a sense of mystery. 'The 'nature' of such a statue would not thereby be made arbitrary or subject to a whim: it is necessary that it should be flesh" (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. IV, London, 1994, p. 281).

Magritte has thereby created an absorbing surreal vision that blurs the boundaries of art and reality, hinting at the subtle magic of the relationship that links them. The use of one of the most iconic sculptures in the world is a spur to our confused recognition. However, it is interesting to note that in La clairvoyance, Magritte has tailored the sculpture to his own uses, reinventing it not only through the use of flesh instead of stone, but also by removing the head and the drapery of the original, making the impossible appearance of a living flesh fragment all the more incongruous and affecting.

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