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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)

Le changement des couleurs

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Le changement des couleurs
signed 'Magritte' (upper right); titled, numbered and inscribed 'LE CHANGEMENT DES COULEURS (III) 6P' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
16 3/4 x 11 in. (42.5 x 28 cm.)
Painted in 1928
Marcel Mariën, Brussels.
Private collection, Brussels (acquired at auction in Brussels in 1949), and thence by descent; sale, Sotheby's, Paris, 4 December 2013, lot 1 (€673,500).
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
D. Sylvester & S. Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Oil Paintings, 1916-1930, Antwerp, 1992, no. 265, p. 305 (illustrated).
On loan to the Musée Magritte, Brussels, since 2014.
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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

With a mixture of mystery, danger and derring-do, a man leaps from the plunging basket of a hot-air balloon whose harnesses appear to have been slashed. His imminent landing will be in an impossible room, one wall of which is pure sky. Painted in 1928, Le changement des couleurs is one of René Magritte’s early Surreal paintings, yet reveals his incredible ability to reveal the magic and mystery of the world around us. Within the space of an interior, he has shown this man leaping from his hot-air balloon. He recalls the anti-hero from Fantômas, a master of adventure and disguise who had featured in a number of thrillers in the form of books and films. This adds an intrepid spin to Le changement des couleurs. An additional sense of foreboding for Magritte’s contemporary audience may have been introduced by the very notion of the implied dirigible: Belgium, after all, was one of the first victims of aerial bombardment from balloons at the outbreak of the First World War, which was still in recent memory. At the same time, more innocuous associations had doubtless emerged in the interim: after all, in the mid-1920s, the Belgians were international champions of air balloon racing. As a result, Belgium hosted the Gordon Bennett race in 1923, 1924, 1925 and 1926, in the years preceding the creation of Le changement des couleurs, meaning that these flying vehicles were very much in the public consciousness at the time.

Magritte rarely spoke of childhood memories, yet Le changement des couleurs appears to be based on one of the few which he did discuss. In a short autobiography he wrote in 1954, he recalled: ‘From his cot, René Magritte saw men in helmets carry the envelope of a balloon which had landed on the roof of the family home’ (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester, René Magritte Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, London, 1992, p. 305). This apparently took place while Magritte was an infant, when his family still lived in Gilly, and had occurred when some balloonists had accidentally collided with their house. This appears to have been a touchstone both for Le changement des couleurs, and for Magritte’s perspective in general.

The idea of a flying machine being dragged down the staircase by men in strange outfits may well have influenced Magritte. There is a topsy-turviness to the notion of this failed balloon being brought through the domestic interior that can be seen to impact many of Magritte’s images, where the world that one expects is twisted and transformed, revealing its inherent mystery. In Le changement des couleurs, a balloon is once again invading a domestic interior, with a man leaping from the basket. These worlds have again collided. Magritte’s later interest in incongruously floating rocks and other objects may itself be rooted in this childhood moment; at the same time, the presence of balloons in a number of his pictures, ranging from his early 1925 work Le cinéma bleu to Quand l’heure sonnera of 1964- 65, reveals the enduring relevance of this motif to the artist. At the same time, the fact that the balloon, as a theme, had been embraced by Odilon Redon in his iconic L’oeil, comme un ballon bizarre se dirige vers l’infini, had resulted in its having a huge influence on the Surrealists.

Le changement des couleurs was painted during the time that Magritte was living in Paris with his wife Georgette; its inscription, in which the title was numbered, helps place it within 1928, one of the most successful and creative years of Magritte’s career, as does some of its stylistic content (see ibid., p. 305). While living in the French capital, Magritte had quickly established himself as an important member of the increasingly international group of Surrealists, as well as the foremost Belgian Surrealist. He was participating in the activities of André Breton, the movement’s founder, as well as his contemporaries amongst the artists. Looking at the combination of different spaces within the interior of Le changement des couleurs, as well as the character of the illustration of the man falling from his balloon basket, one is reminded of the collages of the Surrealists, not least Max Ernst. This is an effect that is heightened by the window of sky that takes up an entire wall-space, as though Magritte had transposed an illustration from one work within the composition of another. This recalls Magritte’s own collages, for instance those in which a wall of an interior has been replaced by a vista of a stormy sea.

At the same time, Le changement des couleurs reveals that Magritte’s perspective was very different from those of many of his colleagues, including Ernst, who had influenced him yet whose working practice was almost opposed to his. Rather than looking into the subconscious for inspiration, Magritte instead looked to the wonders of the world around him, even when he was mining his own childhood for inspiration. In Le changement des couleurs, his disruption of the properties of life that the viewer takes all too easily for granted are clear: a whole wall of the interior has been replaced by the sky through which the man plummets. The edge at the bottom of the sky, where it joins with the floor, lends it a sense of solidity, as though it were indeed one of the internal planes of this domestic space. The perspectival lines of the floorboards and the dado to the right pull the viewer’s attention towards this sky-wall. In this sense, Le changement des couleurs recalls the cinema, perhaps playing on the mysterious nature of the world of film, where a two-dimensional scene can be played out in front of a crowd within a room.

The notion of cinema is heightened by the sheer drama of the scene, with the man plunging from the harness of the unseen balloon. In the catalogue raisonné of Magritte’s works, it is suggested that this protagonist recalls the violent master-criminal Fantômas (see ibid., p. 305). Originally the central figure in a number of thrillers written by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, the tales of Fantômas’ adventures were subsequently adapted for the silent cinema, not least in the 1910s in a serialised group of highly influential films directed by Louis Feuillade. Fantômas would remain a source of fascination in popular culture, with novels and movies alike being produced into the 1960s. For Magritte, the character, a master of disguise and therefore a form of cipher, was a source of inspiration over the decades. Figures from Feuillade’s films such as Fantômas and Irma Vepp influenced earlier paintings such as L’homme du large (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels), La voleuse, Le supplice de la vestale and the destroyed painting Le barbare, all of 1927. Meanwhile, the iconic L’assassin menacé painted the same year and now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York clearly derives from a still from the 1913 film Fantômas. In Le changement des couleurs, this shape-shifting, creeping, leaping protagonist hurtles into the humdrum domestic universe, a collision of the realms of fact and fiction, a revelation of the inherent drama of life itself.

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