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Rene Magritte
Property from a Distinguished Collector 
Rene Magritte

Le rendez-vous

Details
Rene Magritte
Le rendez-vous
signed 'Magritte' (lower left); titled, dated and inscribed '"LE RENDEZ-VOUS" 1948 20F' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
24 x 29 in. (61 x 73.7 cm.)
Painted in 1948
Provenance
Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist, 1949).
Irving Abbey, New York.
Davlyn Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, 1973).
Acquired by the previous owner, 1978.
Literature
C. Bernard, "Les expositions" in La Nation belge, 16 February 1949, p. 2 (titled Le rendez-vous des oiseaux).
Statement of account from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 2 March 1950.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 2 March 1950.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 15 October 1952.
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné: Oil Paintings and Objects: 1931-1948, Houston, 1993, vol. II, p. 420, no. 670 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Brussels, Palais du Beaux-arts, Galerie Lou Cosyn, Hebdomadaire d'information artistique, 1949.
Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Facetten van hedendaagse schilderkunst: België, Luxemburg, Nederland, June-August 1949, no. 67.
Rome, Vittoriano, Magritte: la storia centrále, March-July 2001, p. 69, no. 20 (illustrated in clor).
Tokyo, The Bunkamura Museum of Art; Nagoya City Art Museum and Hiroshima Museum of Art, René Magritte, July-December 2002, p. 162, no. 38 (illustrated in color, p. 77).
New York, Blain di Donna, Magritte: Dangerous Liaisons, October- December 2011, pp. 24 and 72 (illustrated in color, p. 25).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

René Magritte's Le rendez-vous of 1948 is an enchanting painting from a series where Magritte utilized an enlarged, finely delineated leaf inhabited by exotic birds as the dominant motif. In this painting, gem-like, meticulously rendered birds, each with its own distinct and colorful plumage, perch upon the veins of a magnified leaf as though on the branches of a tree, while in the background, a curtain is drawn to reveal the spectacle of an approaching three-masted ship tossed on a violently spuming sea beneath a leaden sky. In this cryptic and indeed, poetic juxtaposition, Magritte challenges our expectations of reality through pronounced visual distortions of scale, proportion and perspective. The macroscopic leaf contrasts with the comparatively miniature-sized birds it shelters and through a destabilization of absolute notions of the interior and exterior realms, the fall of the curtain suggests that the sea is, in fact, in the interior--a reading supported by the slightly weathered stone of the window surround but which is, nonetheless, stymied by the reality of a sea being outside. These subversions, so emblematic of Magritte's thought-provoking and witty approach, are further emphasized through distinct oppositions of color, lighting, depicted movement and, even mood.

Just one other work in Magritte's considerable oeuvre, a corresponding gouache from 1948 that bears the same title as the present oil and which, as David Sylvester suggests in the catalogue raisonné, possibly pre-dates it, presents this enigmatic and fascinating conjunction of a vast "leaf-tree" of tropical birds with a stormy, maritime scene so reminiscent of an eighteenth-century seascape (see Sylvester no. 1282). In 1950, Magritte's friend, the poet Louis Scutenaire, discussed Le rendez-vous in the following terms: "To make sure of killing them in the hunt, man would shoot showers of arrows into the animals he painted on the walls of caves. Today, he restores life to the leaf by showering it with birds" (L. Scutenaire, quoted in D. Sylvester, op. cit., p. 420).

Magritte first treated the subject of a leaf populated by a "menagerie" of colorful birds in two paintings of 1942: La troisième dimension (fig. 2) and Le regard intérieur (Sylvester, nos. 500 and 501). The relatively pared-back composition of the former features a leaf similar to that in the present painting, but set simply within a backdrop comprising a pale blue-sky and tranquil sea. Le regard intérieur, by contrast, is a more complex variation on the theme and relates more closely to the present work in its inclusion of a distant landscape and Magritte's signature repoussoir drape, a theatrical device of both concealment and revelation. The leaf and bird motif of both those works, and of Le rendez-vous, evolved from two major sources: the so-called "leaf-tree," one of Magritte's most important and enduring Surreal motifs that first emerged in 1935, and the fantastic, metamorphic "leaf-bird" compositions that he began to paint in 1942.

The leaf-tree was Magritte's answer to what he believed was the "question" of the tree, and is crucial to understanding the paintings. "In connection with the 'genesis' of my pictures," he stated, "[the] images are arrived at through deliberate and conscious research starting from some object or other considered as a 'question'" (Magritte, letter to G. Puel in Sylvester, op. cit., vol. III, p. 173). This "deliberate and conscious research" resulted in images whose aim was to evoke both mystery and revelation by forcing the viewer to reconsider preconceived notions of their surrounding world. As early as 1933, Magritte had written to André Breton that he had been "trying... to discover what it is in a tree that belongs to it specifically but which would run counter to our concept of a tree" (Magritte, letter to Breton, quoted in Sylvester, op. cit., vol. II, p. 194). The disarmingly simple solution, as he later explained, was that "the tree, as the subject of a problem, became a large leaf the stem of which was a trunk directly planted in the ground." Throughout the 1940s, Magritte repeatedly explored this synecdochic concept, but in Le rendez-vous it has been modified: the impossibly large leaf dominating the foreground is not depicted with a trunk and, moreover, there is a broken stem suggesting that a further leaf once existed.

Another precedent for the present painting is Magritte's L'Île au trésor (fig. 3) of 1942 where birds metamorphosize into foliage beside a calm sea. That title, taken from Robert Louis Stevenson's novel of the same name, parallels the sense of adventure, discovery and mystery evoked in Le rendez-vous by its conjunction of the storm-tossed ship and the exotic birds. It is ironic that despite the repeated appearance of ships and the sea in his work, and his use of titles such as La traversé difficile, Magritte himself travelled very little in his life: "I don't travel," he declared. "If I do it is to Italy or Southern France for a vacation, and then I don't paint. I don't need to be by the sea to paint the sea. I have the image in my head... I need the familiar world about me to get a real sense of mystery. I cannot do this in a strange country" (Magritte, interview for Life in A. Blavier, ed., Ecrits Complets, 2001, p. 611). As Jacques Meuris so astutely points out, his were inner explorations, "journeys of the mind" (J. Meuris, Magritte, trans. J.A. Underwood, New York, 1990, p. 134).

Notwithstanding the artist's categorical rejection of the allegorical and the symbolic, and his rather terse comments concerning Romanticism, there is something of the romantic in this depiction of a floundering ship that appears to be attempting to draw close to the beautifully exotic birds--so strongly illuminated and presented here in painstaking detail that they might have been plucked from plates of an ornithological treatise. In the combination of a curtain, a leaf so large that it is almost anthropomorphic, and a distant seascape, Le rendez-vous appears to make playful reference to Old Master precedents such as the stately portraits of British naval officers and, more pertinently, the portraits of explorer-naturalists. Indeed, this technique of subversive appropriation and adaptation was very much a hallmark of Magritte's and was a strategy that he employed throughout his career.

In the 1940s, for example, Magritte passed through his "Renoir period" and in the first half of 1948, the year he painted Le rendez-vous, he created his "vache" paintings where the crude, comic-strip-like imagery drawn from popular culture was intended as an attack on bourgeois taste. These "vache" paintings were coolly received by critics and public alike, and it was Magritte's new U.S.-based dealer, the formidable Alexander Iolas, who suggested he return to his more recognizable signature style, evident in the present painting, executed later that same year. The following year at the Galerie Lou Cosyn in Brussels, Magritte held his first exhibition after reverting to his "realist," polished manner of execution. This exhibition, whose title translates as "the talking pictures of René Magritte," included Le rendez-vous.

It is notable that the three paintings that feature the central motif of the present painting bear three different names: La troisième dimension, Le regard intérieur and Le rendez-vous. Indeed, Le rendez-vous was a title that Magritte had previously used for a 1937 painting showing completely different imagery. Magritte frequently stated that his titles bore no relationship to the contents of a painting: "The title maintains the same rapport with the painted forms as the forms maintain among themselves," he elucidated. "The forms are assembled in order that evoke mystery... the painting is not an illustration of the ideas that follow" (Magritte, interview with J. Walravens, November 1962 in A. Blavier, op. cit., pp. 537-538). In spite of this disavowal, there is a strong sense of a meeting, or "assignation" as it is translated in the catalogue raisonné, a coming together which radiates from the painting: an inevitable rendezvous, despite the fact that each party is yet unknown to the other.

(fig. 1) René Magritte, La géante, 1935. Sold, Christie's, London, 2002.

(fig. 2) René Magritte, La troisième dimension, 1942. Pinakothek der Modern, Munich.

(fig. 3) René Magritte, L'Île au trésor, 1942. Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels.

(fig. 4) René Magritte, La goutte d'eau. 1948. Private collection.

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