Audio: Rene Magritte
René Magritte (1898-1967)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more MASTERWORKS FROM A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTION
René Magritte (1898-1967)

Les muscles célestes

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Les muscles célestes
signed 'Magritte' (upper left); indistinctly titled 'Les muscles célestes' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
21 1/4 x 28 3/4 in. (54 x 73 cm.)
Painted in 1927
Galerie L’Epoque (Paul-Gustave Van Hecke), Brussels.
Galerie Le Centaure, Brussels, by whom acquired from the above in 1929.
E.L.T. Mesens, Brussels, by whom acquired from the above in 1932.
Paul Nougé, by whom acquired from the above.
E. Beauvoisin, by whom acquired from the above in 1953.
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1965.
Letter from René Magritte to Paul Nougé, in Lettres surrealistes, late September - October 1927, no. 105.
Le fait accompli, nos. 34-35, Brussels, April 1970 (illustrated).
R. Magritte, La destination: Lettres à Marcel Mariën, 1937-1962, Brussels, 1977 (illustrated on the cover).
R. Calvocoressi, Magritte, Oxford, 1979, p. 29 (illustrated pl. 17).
J. Meuris, Magritte, Woodstock, NY, 1990, no. 28, p. 20 (illustrated).
R. Calvocoressi, Magritte, Oxford, 1992, p. 65 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester & S. Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Oil Paintings, 1916-1930, Antwerp, 1992, no. 166, p. 235 (illustrated).
D. Ottinger, ed., exh. cat., Magritte, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, 1996, p. 39 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Magritte, Brussels, 2009, pp. 152-153 (illustrated p. 153).
R. Hughes, ed., Magritte en poche, Antwerp, 2009, p. 427 (illustrated p. 57).
J. Waseige, ed., Le Musée Magritte, Bruxelles, Antwerp, 2014, p. 99 (illustrated).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Rétrospective Magritte, October - December 1978, no. 42 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, January - April 1979 (shown in Brussels only).
Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, René Magritte, June - October 1987, no. 7, p. 172 (illustrated).
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, René Magritte, November 1987 - February 1988, no. 14 (illustrated).
Yamaguchi, Musée préfectural, René Magritte, May - July 1988, no. 22 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Tokyo, Musée National d'Art Moderne, May - July 1988.
London, Hayward Gallery, South Bank Centre, Magritte, May - August 1992, no. 25 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, September - November 1992, Houston, The Menil Collection, December 1992 - February 1993, and Chicago, Art Institute, March - May 1993 (shown in London and New York only).
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Magritte, 1898-1967, March - June 1998, no. 46, p. 81 (illustrated).
Knokke, Casino communal, Magritte, June - September 2001, no. 9, p. 123 (illustrated p. 39).
Vienna, BA-CA Kunstforum, René Magritte, The Key to Dreams, April - July 2005, no. 17, (illustrated p. 69); this exhibition later travelled to Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, August - November 2005.
Brussels, Musée Magritte, on loan since 2009.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, September 2013 - January 2014, pp. 89-91 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Houston, The Menil Collection, February - June 2014; and Chicago, Art Institute, June - October 2014.
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.
Sale room notice
Please note that this work has been requested for inclusion in the forthcoming exhibition Clouds which will take place at the Château du Roeulx in Belgium from 21 May – 18 October 2015.  

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Anna Povejsilova
Anna Povejsilova

Lot Essay

Les muscles célestes is an important early painting by René Magritte, painted at the time of his move to Paris in the autumn of 1927. Indeed, David Sylvester has written that Les muscles célestes was ‘the first painting he completed in Paris’ (D. Sylvester, Magritte, Brussels, 2009, p. 152). This picture dates from the early years of Magritte’s interaction with Surrealism, and more importantly, to the beginning of his sometimes problematic relationship with the French group of Surrealists which centred around André Breton. At the end of September or beginning of October that year, Magritte wrote to his friend, the biochemist and author Paul Nougé - who would later own Les muscles célestes - describing his work so far in the French capital:

‘I have done two canvases so far; here are their titles and what I have to say about them (not a very objective description, but a sort of equivalent, I feel)... The legs of the sky - the floor, lit by the moon which one knows to be behind one, is not surrounded by walls; it hides, with far-off trees, a patch of sky. But a patch of floor is itself concealed by the legs of the sky, which touch down on it, and could not give rise to futile thoughts’ (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester, René Magritte Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, London, 1992, p. 235).

It was only two years earlier, in 1925, that Magritte had painted what he considered his first true painting, La fenêtre. This was a work that revealed the artist to be breaking away from the Cubistic and Futuristic forms of his earlier pictures, beginning to develop a surreal visual language that was often based on mysterious juxtapositions. By the time he painted Les muscles célestes in 1927, it is clear that Magritte had managed to create a new artistic idiom of his own. Here, he plays with the nature of collage and of representation: the jagged shards of sky jut impossibly into the wall-less room that is depicted with its perspectival floor-boards. In places, this animate sky appears to be a jumble of bustling humanoid forms. Meanwhile, an imposing central band of darkness stretches across the composition, its outline filled with gnarled details which create a vivid silhouette, evoking landscape and creatures alike.

The crags and crevasses in this dark strip, and indeed the composition in general, echo some of the recent pictures of Yves Tanguy, whose evocative mindscapes had only recently been created (interestingly, the Surreal epiphanies of both Magritte and Tanguy were the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico which they saw). However, the jagged areas of sky which protrude into the room-like space of the foreground also recall the paintings of Max Ernst. It was in Paris that Magritte met Ernst for the first time, introduced by his friend and dealer Camille Goemans. Indeed, Goemans introduced Magritte to a number of the prominent figures involved in Surrealism and the avant garde in Paris during this time; his Galerie Goemans represented a number of these artists, and had indeed opened with a show of Ernst’s collages. However, Ernst’s influence on Magritte had been evident even two years earlier, in La fenêtre, which bore echoes of the German artist’s own interior decorations for the home of Paul Eluard, photographs of which had been published and appear to have been seen and inwardly digested by Magritte.

Looking at Les muscles célestes, it is clear that collage has a role to play in the formation of the composition. Magritte has presented the cloud-flecked sky as though it were ripped from another source and then placed here. While Ernst’s collages may have been important precedents, Magritte himself had already proved himself a master of the medium, and would continue to do so throughout the rest of his career. In Les muscles célestes, his involvement in collage is complicated by the use of oil on canvas. Instead of using collage, he has mimicked it, deliberately creating a new form of juxtaposition. By committing this collage-like element to canvas, he has lent it a new permanence, unlike the ephemeral, chance-fuelled compositions of Ernst and some of his contemporaries. This is the continuation of an avenue of investigation that Magritte had already explored in some earlier pictures painted before his move to Paris, and would continue in other works such as Les fgures de nuit, now in the Sprengel Museum, Hanover.

As well as invoking collage, Les muscles célestes also pays tribute to some of Max Ernst’s more recent paintings, for instance La horde, now in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. In that picture, which Richard Calvocoressi illustrated next to Les muscles célestes in his 1979 monograph on Magritte, Ernst had used forms created through a combination of chance, subconscious guidance and inspiration to create a vivid bestiary, showing a turmoil of mythical figures. In Les muscles célestes, the sky itself recalls these churning figures, implying that Magritte is paying homage to Ernst while also dismantling the entire notion of chance that was involved in the creation of his works.

Even the title of Les muscles célestes appears to pay tribute to Magritte’s new involvement with the wider Surreal scene in Paris: it has been observed that it appears to make reference to the first page of the first edition of La Révolution Surréaliste: ‘What are pen and paper, what is writing, what is poetry beside this giant who holds the muscles of the clouds in his own muscles?’ (Magritte, quoted in ibid., p. 235).

Les muscles célestes was initially owned by the Galerie L’Epoque, before being acquired by the Galerie Le Centaure; from its liquidation sale, the picture was acquired by Magritte’s friend, E.L.T. Mesens. He sold it to Nougé, in whose hands it remained for several decades, being sold by him to his brother-in-law, E. Beauvoisin, in 1953. This was the year of Nougé’s retirement as a biochemist, which may have prompted his sale. Another influence in this sale may have been the fact that it was in 1952, only a year earlier, that he and Magritte had had a serious disagreement.
Les muscles célestes was acquired by the family of the present owners directly from Beauvoisin.

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