René Magritte (1898-1967)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION 
René Magritte (1898-1967)

La belle promenade

René Magritte (1898-1967)
La belle promenade
signed 'magritte' (lower left); inscribed '"La belle promenade"' (on the reverse)
gouache on paper
16 1/2 x 11 3/4 in. (41.8 x 30 cm.)
Executed in 1965
Pierre Scheidweiler, Brussels, by whom acquired directly from the artist on 8 April 1965.
Private collection, Brussels; sale, Christie's, London, 29 November 1993, lot 40.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
D. Sylvester, S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. IV, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés 1918 - 1967, London, 1994, no. 1579, p. 282 (illustrated).
Brussels, Salle des Metiers d'Art du Brabant, Peintres & Sculpteurs du Hainault, June - July 1966; this exhibition later travelled to Saint-Hubert, Palais Abbatial, August 1966, and Spa, Pouhon Pierre-le-Grand, August - September 1966.
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, René Magritte: het mysterie van de werkelijkheid / le mystère de la réalité, August - September 1967, no. 100, p. 224 (illustrated p. 225).
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.

Brought to you by

Antoine Lebouteiller
Antoine Lebouteiller

Lot Essay

A screen of trees, a man-shaped silhouette of sky, a wall and a bell… These are the components of René Magritte's La belle promenade. Executed in 1965, this exquisite gouache has only changed hands once since it was purchased from the artist himself. Using a deliberately restrained number of subjects, Magritte manages to invoke a number of his most favoured themes and subjects in this picture: it has an almost epigrammatic quality because of its composition, which is dominated by the avoid in the shape of a bowler-hatted man, one of the greatest of Magrittean icons.

In this picture, Magritte has subverted the nature of pictures, not least the concept of the portrait. In Flemish portraits of the Renaissance period, a man might be shown against a country backdrop, perhaps leaning on a trompe-l'oeil ledge in the foreground, as is the case in the portrait of an anonymous man by Quentin Massys now in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein. However, in Magritte's counterpart, La belle promenade, there is instead an eloquent absence: the cipher that is the anonymous bowler-hatted man dominates the composition despite being only sky. This void is all the more intriguing as many people associate the bowler hat with Magritte himself: it was an item of headwear that he adopted and eventually made very much his own. It became a form of signature. In La belle promenade, then, there is the sense that Magritte is playing with his viewer by creating a self-portrait that pointedl reveals nothing. This, then, is a reprisal of a subject tackled in other works such as Le fils de l'homme of the previous year, in which the bowler-hatted substitute for the artist was shown obscured by a floating apple, disrupting the entire notion of portraiture and self-portraiture.

The bowler hat that had become such a hallmark of Magritte's own universe had in fact originally been selected because it allowed a certain amount of camouflage. As Magritte explained of Golconde, his 1953 painting showing a crowd of bowler-hatted men raining down into a town, 'The bowler… poses no surprise. It is a headdress that is not original. The man with the bowler is just middle class man in his anonymity. And I wear it. I am not eager to singularise myself' (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester, S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, London, 1993, p. 206). It was a source of irony that the hat that Magritte had chosen because of its endemic nature in middleclass society in Belgium would later become primarily associated with him, yet this was an irony that Magritte himself explored in a range of works, including La belle promenade, especially during this period in the mid-1960s. As well as subverting the visual language of the half-length portrait, La belle promenade plays with the notion of the landscape, and the picture in general. By showing this absence within the screen of greenery in the background, Magritte is able to play with the concept of perspectival depth within the two-dimensional format of his picture. He is highlighting and dismantling the illustrative nature of painting, and therefore deliberately and gleefully undermining the purpose of the picture itself.

This is an effect that Magritte has heightened through the use of the strongly-perspectival depiction of the wall in the foreground of La belle promenade. The lines of the joins between the stones all taper towards some distant focal point that itself would appear to be within the gaping chasm of sky that comprises the absent figure of the man, giving a sense of distance, of the infinity lurking behind and within him. At the same time, it allows Magritte to add another dimension to the games that he is playing within the picture: La belle promenade deconstructs the entire nature of the picture as a means of representation, essentially refuting the validity of each of the elements within its context; but its argument is made all the more eloquent by the evocative use of painstakingly recreated details such as those of the wall, with the vividly pock-marked stone, and the spherical bell that sits upon it. These serve both to emphasise the flatness of the picture surface, perhaps parodying Clement Greenberg's concerns with it as an arena that should be devoid of representation, while also serving to hint at the infinite depth of the sky zone that is contained within it. And, by using the combination of elements here, with the strong horizontal aspect in the foreground, a figure shown in silhouette and an awe-inspiring, plunging view into the deep distance, Magritte even appears to invoke the visual language of the sublime, as explored in the Romantic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich.

In this way, Magritte has put his deliberately limited arsenal of component parts to use to explore the way in which we read pictures. At the same time, he is inviting us, as viewers, to look around us at the world that we see and to re-appraise it. Magritte's pictures conjure a sense of the awe, mystery and poetry of existence, and these are all apparent in La belle promenade. He has created an image that makes us question portraiture and landscape… but also the notion of man, of identity, of the outdoors, and by extension, of the universe at large.

More from Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale

View All
View All