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René Magritte (1898-1967)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE AMERICAN COLLECTION
René Magritte (1898-1967)


René Magritte (1898-1967)
signed 'Magritte' (upper left); dated and titled '"L'EXPLICATION"1952' (on the reverse)
gouache on paper
7 5/8 x 5 5/8 in. (19.4 x 14.3 cm.)
Executed in 1952
Mr & Mrs Robert de Vecchi, New York, by whom acquired from the artist circa 1955, and thence by descent to the present owner.
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

Lot Essay

This work is sold with a photo-certificate from the Comité Magritte.

‘The visible presented by the world is rich enough to constitute a language evocative of mystery.’ 
(Magritte, quoted in H. Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, trans. R. Miller, New York, 1977, p. 86)

An exquisitely rendered gouache, René Magritte’s L’Explication presents a bottle and a carrot, next to which stands a mysteriously metamorphosing, surreal hybrid of these two objects. Painted in 1952, the present work was executed only a year after this subject had first emerged in Magritte’s work. In 1951, in an oil painting of the same name, Magritte depicted the same composition, which his dealer Alexander Iolas bought and promptly sold to the Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro (Sylvester, no. 764; now destroyed). Over the course of 1952, Magritte painted three more oil variations of this compelling arrangement (Sylvester, nos. 782-784), as well as the present gouache. Never before seen at auction nor exhibited publicly, this work has remained in the same private collection since it was acquired directly from the artist circa 1955. 

With its strange union of quotidian and fantastical objects, L’Explication encapsulates Magritte’s central line of artistic enquiry: to discover what he called the ‘elective affinities’ of objects and images. From the mid-1930s onwards, Magritte explored the ways in which linked objects – an egg and a birdcage for example – related to one another, as he sought to reveal the unseen mysteries of the visible world. In order to achieve this, he juxtaposed or, as in the present work, transformed, often ubiquitous and ordinary objects to create surreal combinations that defy logic and confound understanding. Magritte explained: ‘The creation of new objects, the transformation of known objects; a change in substance in the case of certain objects...such in general were the means devised to force objects out of the ordinary, to become sensational, and so establish a profound link between consciousness and the external world’ (Magritte, ‘La Ligne de vie’, in G. Ollinger-Zinque & F. Leen, eds., René Magritte 1898-1967, exh. cat., Brussels, 1998, p. 46). 

The title of this work – L’Explication (The Explanation), and the title that Magritte’s friend Paul Nougé proposed – Un discours de la méthode (Discourse on method) – suggests that the bottle-carrot motif was one of the defining examples of Magritte’s method of exposing the unexpected affinities between objects (D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, London, 1993, p. 185). Yet, although Magritte assigned great importance to the titles of his paintings, he disliked the search for hidden or symbolic meanings that they could engender. ‘The titles of my pictures are only a conversational convenience, they are not explanations’, he stated, ‘[they] are meant as an extra protection to counter any attempt to reduce poetry to a pointless game’ (Magritte, ‘La Ligne de vie’, op. cit., p. 46). For Magritte, any attempt at explaining the playful contradictions, juxtapositions and disruptions that his compositions created was to miss the essence of his art. Perhaps then the title L’Explication is not so much revealing his methods, but doing the very opposite: adding another layer of mystery to this playful, enigmatic composition. 

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