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

La recherche de l'absolu

René Magritte (1898-1967)
La recherche de l'absolu
signed 'Magritte' (lower left); titled 'La Recherche de l'Absolu' (on the reverse)
gouache and brush and India ink on paper
14 1/8 x 10 5/8 in. (36 x 27 cm.)
Executed circa 1963
Renée Lachowsky, Brussels.
Private collection, Belgium, by whom acquired from the above in the 1960s.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, New York, 1 May 1996, lot 372.
Samuel Vanhoegaerden Gallery, Knokke.
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2008.
D. Sylvester, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. IV, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés, 1918-1967, London, 1994, no 1540, p. 260 (illustrated).
Brussels, Musée Magritte, on loan since May 2009.
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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Anna Povejsilova
Anna Povejsilova

Lot Essay

In La recherche de l'absolu, René Magritte presents a crepuscular scene filled with warm beauty: a house, the windows ablaze with welcoming light, is perched within a landscape that is bathed in the twilight of what appears to be a luminous evening. Meanwhile, a bell, larger than the house's windows, is shown as though discarded on the ground, while a post-autumnal leaf-tree dominates the entire composition. In this leaf-tree, the leaves themselves have been removed, or the solid green of its usual incarnation. In losing the more solid green that is common in Magritte's leaf-trees, the ambiguity of the mix between leaf and tree is made all the more apparent: after all, this could almost be a tree with its leafless branches. However, there is a sense in its flatness and of its regular shape that retains the clear link to those monumental leaves that had made their entrance in his 1935 painting, La géante.

The autumnal theme of La recherche de l'absolu first made its appearance in a group of three paintings created by Magritte a little over two decades before this exquisite gouache. Of those works, painted at the end of 1940, one was acquired by the Ministère de la Communauté Française de Belgique at an early date (see D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. II, London, 1993, p. 282). Magritte described these pictures in a letter to Claude Spaak, written early in 1941: 'Among the recent canvases, there are three versions of "The search for the absolute", which is a leafless tree (in winter) but with branches that provide the shape of a leaf, a Leaf even so!' (Magritte, quoted in ibid., p. 282).

The date of the inception of this variation upon the leaf-tree theme is telling: after all, it was after the Occupation of Belgium, which had occurred only half a year earlier. When German forces had first invaded Belgium, Magritte had fled to France, eventually arriving in Carcassonne; however, within a short time, he decided to return home, to his wife, Georgette, making an arduous journey through Nazi-occupied territory. The autumnal atmosphere of the original versions of La recherche de l'absolu may owe something to contemporary events, as they have a serene solemnity to them. Indeed, Magritte himself referred to them as 'very pure pictures' (Magritte, quoted in ibid., p. 282).

It is a reflection of the enduring strength and purity of this image that Magritte would return to in later years, not least in this 1962 gouache. Here, he has added several elements that mark out the difference between La recherche de l'absolu and its predecessors, for instance the bell and indeed the house. In this way, Magritte reveals the process of reinvention that underpinned his pictures whenever he revisited older themes: rather than copy, he would create new works by adding elements that added different emphases. This is certainly the case in La recherche de l'absolu, where a sense of human scale and human habitation has been added, removing the sense of solitude and isolation of the lone leaf-tree and making it all the easier for the viewer to relate to this mystery-infused image.

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