Rene Magritte
Rene Magritte

Le monde familier

Rene Magritte
Le monde familier
signed 'Magritte' (lower left)
gouache on paper
16½ x 10¾ in. (42 x 27.5 cm.)
Painted in 1964
Brussels Lions Club (gift from the artist, 1964).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 4 April 1979, lot 268 (incorrectly illustrated, lot 258).
Christian Fayt Galerie, Knokke-Le Zoute.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1979.
D. Sylvester, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, gouaches, temperas, watercolours and papiers collés 1918-1967, New York, 1994, p. 274, no. 1564 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

In La monde familier, a gouache from 1964, Magritte enacts his signature pictorial reversal of natural and artificial elements, challenging the distinction between imaginative and strictly representational art. By depicting a solid rock floating implausibly above a cloud, which in turn sits lower on the horizon than one would expect, above the artist's signature bell or "grelot," Magritte inverts the viewer's assumptions about the order of nature creating a frisson of surreality. By placing all of the forms in a single column against a sky with very little depth, Magritte undermines the art historical separation between interior and exterior, foreground and background in the landscape genre.

This work belongs to a series of works from the 1950s and onwards where the artist depicted a rock hovering in the sky, and is one of few that combines the rock with the bell in one composition. The grelot or harness bell originates in a 1926 painting entitled Le gouffre argenté (D. Sylvester, no. 87) in which eight bells float in a void seen through a hole in a wall. Magritte used this device over and over during the next three decades, enjoying the effect of placing an ordinary object in an unfamiliar setting; as he explained, "Our secret desire is for a change in the order of things, and it is appeased by the vision of a new order... the fate of an object in which we had no interest suddenly begins to disturb us." Where the grelot was originally introduced as an artificial or man-made disruption to the landscape, featured incongruously floating in the sky, or rising behind the horizon like the sun, the bell in La monde familier is deployed to the opposite end, sitting squarely on the ground, it incarnates the material world and lends credence to the otherwise inconceivable notion that the organic, emphatically natural, rock could actually float in the air.

Magritte himself has commented that this transformation of the ordinary into extraordinary is a guiding interest of his art: "My paintings show objects deprived of the sense they usually have. They are shown in unusual contexts... Ordinary objects fascinate me. A door is a familiar object but at the same time it is a bizarre object, full of mystery... I suppose you can call me a surrealist. The word is all right. You have to use one word or another. But one should really say realism, although that usually refers to daily life in the street. It should be that realism means the real with the mystery that is in the real" (quoted in "The Enigmatic Visions of René Magritte," Life, 22 April 1996, pp. 113-119).

In 1960, shortly before the execution of this gouache, Magritte and his art had been the subject of a film titled La leçon des choses, ou Magritte by the director Luc de Heusch. Magritte was dissatisfied with the experiment: "Cinema," he said, "is the art of movement, while the reproductions of my pictures that we see on the screen are by their very nature static" (interview with Jacques de Decker, October 1960, quoted in H. Torczyner, op. cit., New York, p. 46). Despite this condemnation of cinematographic depictions of painting, Magritte's very imagery relies on a similar contradiction between stasis and movement that is often enacted through fusion of animate and inanimate worlds. The imagery of La monde familier is rooted in the imagined metamorphosis of clouds into objects that Magritte had painted in Galatée of 1952 (D. Sylvester, no. 990) and that reappeared in other gouaches of 1964 such as Les couriers de Lady Beltham (D. Sylvester, no. 1559a), Les derniers voiliers (D. Sylvester, no. 1559b) and Galatée (D. Sylvester, no. 1560). In these cases shapes in the sky are composed of patches of sea, but it is the same transsubstantive logic that motivates the replacement of the cloud with the rock we see here in La monde familier.

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