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René Magritte (1898-1967)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more Collecting is itself an art. Many great collections have been built on a single guiding principle: great collectors who focus on one subject and plough a single exacting furrow. Others choose a much more complex route to greatness by choosing the very best in many fields to create strong artistic tensions that deliver great visual harmony through dramatic contrasts. This is just such a collection, built with great care over a period of 30 years by two passionate collectors who bought the very best in a variety of fields. The resulting collection is a tribute to their eye, their patience and a deep interest in the great collectors of the past. Over 150 artworks spanning over two millennia were carefully chosen - covering artifacts from the ancient world, medieval Europe and Post-War America. The provenances of these pieces are quite remarkable: a viewing of the collection will take you through objects owned by Henry VIII, Lord Astor of Hever, Lord Elgin and Cardinal Wolsey. In the collection, are a number of very personal gifts from artists to friends or members of their families: a Juan Gris gifted by the artist to Léonce Rosenberg to celebrate the opening of his Paris Exhibition in 1919, a Joan Miró gifted to the greatest typographer of the 20th Century, Ilya Zdanevich, and a Léger of 1925 gifted by the artist to Maja Sacher-Hoffman, one of the greatest Swiss Collectors of 20th Century art. I should also mention the Yves Tanguy gifted to his mother at the height of his career in 1921 or the casket given by Henry VIII to his wife Anne Boleyn. There are countless interesting associations and friendships to be discovered throughout the collection. Provenance and great quality are not the only prerequisites of a memorable collection. There must always be an added factor that raises a collection of great works beyond a simple A-Z of artists. In this instance, the word that comes to mind is 'taste'. This is particularly evident in the interior photographs taken at the owner's home, where the superb 1946 Miró hangs majestically above an Alexander Calder sculpture juxtaposed with a standing Tribal figure. As great paintings by Picasso, Gris, Miró, Meléndez and Léger were acquired, so they were lovingly re-presented in an array of antique frames from the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries. There are also surprises - objects that amuse and that capture the imagination. None more so than the beautiful bronze lion created in Northern Germany in the 13th Century. Its modernism is splendid and it is fascinating to witness how even the most classical of objects can create a dialogue with 20th Century paintings. In so many ways this is a 21st Century collection; one which pays homage to the great classical artistic movements and which builds very clever bridges between periods and genres. As we move forward and the world becomes ever more multicultural, collections like this one, designed around contrasts and contradictions will become more prevalent and an emblem of great taste. It has been a great pleasure for the Christie's team to work on such a fascinating collection and we look forward to the New Year exhibitions at the Museum of Mankind and here at our Headquarters at King Street in January. Jussi Pylkkänen President & Chairman, Christie's Europe, Middle East, Russia and India
René Magritte (1898-1967)


René Magritte (1898-1967)
signed 'magritte' (lower right)
gouache and watercolour on paper laid down on card
9¼ x 7½ in. (23.5 x 19 cm.)
Executed in 1947
Galerie Lou Cosyn, Brussels, by 1947.
Private Collection, Paris.
Daniel Malingue, Paris.
Galerie Agora, Paris.
Andrew Crispo Gallery, New York.
Private collection, Scandinavia.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's London, 4 February 2003, lot 45.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. IV, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés 1918-1967, Brussels, 1994, no. 1232, p. 87 (illustrated).
Brussels, Galerie Lou Cosyn, Exposition Magritte, May - June 1947.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

'I have started re-reading the Thousand and One Nights with pleasure, will it be kept up?' (Magritte, letter to Marcel Mariën, 19 August 1946, quoted in D. Sylvester, ed., S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. III, London, 1993, p. 374).

Executed in 1947, Shéhérazade is one of a group of pictures with the same main motif, the woman with a face largely made up of strings of pearls, which René Magritte exhibited at the Galerie Lou Cosyn in Brussels that year. That exhibition, which gained positive acclaim, appears to have included fifteen variations on the pearl-faced woman, shown in different contexts. Here, she is shown as an apparition above what appears to be a chess piece; in the background is a lushly-depicted landscape in dappled light, recalling the work of the Impressionists. In this way, Magritte has brought about a fascinating collision between the world of the trailblazers of half a century earlier and his own pioneering Surrealism.

Magritte had turned to both the Fauve and the Impressionist styles in part as a reaction to the state of the world, not least during the Second World War. His pictures introduced a new light and luminosity that was designed to entertain and even to amuse. He was irreverently co-opting their styles for his own uses, while also indulging in the sheer pleasure with which Impressionist pictures were now viewed. In Shéhérazade, this is clear from the lyrical landscape in the background, which Magritte has captured with deft virtuosity in his gouaches.

That sense of pleasure and escapism against a threatening backdrop may be invoked by the title, Shéhérazade, which recalls the storyteller in the Thousand and One Nights, who had to tell her tales in a manner entrancing enough that her death would be forestalled. Magritte had re-read the tales in 1946 and named a painting after them, as well as taking the name of their protagonist for these pictures. The woman in these pictures appears a fragile fiction, comprising eyes for observation, mouth for telling stories and the wealth and exotic luxury of the pearls themselves. Magritte, writing in the third person for a draft of the catalogue for the 1947 exhibition in which Shéhérazade appeared, explained the motif in terms that revealed his interest in the imaginary narratives and their power, while also discussing the atmosphere, so different to his earlier works:

'The series of little gouaches which show eyes and mouths set in pearls enriches our minds with a new concept which forces reason to draw back its frontiers... The new aspect of the world that M.'s painting aims to acquaint us with had necessarily to appear in an atmosphere different from that of his previous works. This new aspect of what once appeared severe and disturbing had to prove its strength through being able also to smile and to char. This is why the impressionist technique was appropriate to M.'s new pictures thanks to the possibilities it affords' (Magritte, quoted in ibid., p. 146).

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