René Magritte (1898-1967)
René Magritte (1898-1967)
René Magritte (1898-1967)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property of a Distinguished European Collector
René Magritte (1898-1967)

Stimulation objective

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Stimulation objective
signed 'Magritte' (lower right)
gouache on paper laid down on board
14 3/8 x 18 in. (36.4 x 45.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1938-1939
Edward James, London (acquired from the artist, circa 1939); sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, 1 April 1981, lot 249.
Anon. sale, Christie's, New York, 15 November 1989, lot 48.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
"Le fait accompli" in Les lèvres nues, April 1970, nos. 34-35 (illustrated).
A.M. Hammacher, Magritte, London, 1974, p. 120 (illustrated in color, p. 121, pl. 28).
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings and Objects, 1931-1948, Antwerp, 1993, vol. II, p. 271 (illustrated, fig. a).
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés 1918-1967, London, 1994, vol. IV, p. 40, no. 1155 (illustrated).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, René Magritte, May 1939, no. 11 or 13.
London, Worthing Art Gallery, Impressionism to Surrealism, August-October 1970, no. 33 (dated 1939).
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Magritte: Retrospective Loan Exhibition, October-November 1973, no. 45.
Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage and Kunsthalle Munich, Magritte, June 1987-February 1988, p. 183, no. 42 and p. 276, no. 46 respectively (illustrated in color; dated 1939).
New York, Pace Gallery, René Magritte: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, May-June 1990, no. 5 (illustrated in color).
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Formerly in the collection of the legendary Surrealist patron and poet, Edward James, Magritte’s Stimulation objective of 1938-1939 seems at first glance to portray a strange combination of a plaster torso positioned upon a window ledge, with an endless azure seascape stretching behind. Yet, on closer inspection, Magritte has in fact superimposed a second, smaller though identical image of the plaster cast over the top of the larger version, creating a bizarre, trompe-loeil-like effect that immerses the viewer into the artist’s fantastical Surreal world, one in which the concepts of artifice, illusion, reality and fiction are all brilliantly turned on their head.
The concept of superimposing an exact replica of an image on top of itself was a brand new theme in Magritte’s work at this time. Stimulation objective is one of this small and important group, each of which shares the same title, that consists of three gouaches (Sylvester, nos. 1153, 1154 and the present work), and a single oil (no. 468), all of which were exhibited for the first time in a one-man show of the artist held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels in May 1939. While in the oil Magritte paints a landscape occupied by a lion, barrel and a large rock, the subject matter of the three gouaches is more closely linked: one presents a jug and an apple placed upon the same stone window ledge as the present work, while the other features the same torso, set instead upon a table within an interior. Hanging on the wall behind this torso is one of Magritte’s own paintings, again with a miniature replica imposed over the top. It was Magritte’s friend, Paul Nougé who apparently came up with the title for these works, Stimulation objective, writing in the introductory text of the show: “Lastly, I recommend the reader to meditate on the strange series of Stimulations objectives; they give one a feeling of those famous ‘new horizons’ that are referred to so often and so inappropriately” (quoted in D. Sylvester,?op. cit., 1992, vol. II, p. 273).
The repetition of imagery within a single composition had long been a device Magritte relished as he constantly sought to undermine the way we see. In addition to juxtaposing unexpected and bizarre combinations of objects, he frequently included compositional motifs such as the “picture within a picture”, which played with the conventional relationship between representation and reality, distorting the viewer’s expectations when regarding a painted image. Perhaps nowhere is this pictorial repetition so masterfully deployed than in Magritte’s word paintings. In the most famous of these, La trahison des images of 1929 (Sylvester, no. 303; Los Angeles County Museum of Art), Magritte painted the image of a pipe with the contradictory declaration, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” playfully emblazoned below. As such Magritte demonstrated that a painting never presents a “real” image, but rather a flat, fictional artifice that only purports to show reality. This concept is embodied in the present work: by overlaying replicated images on top of one another, Magritte was emphasizing the inherent fiction and thus the endless mystery of an artistic representation. “The image is separate from what it shows”, he once explained. “What we can see that delights us in a painted image becomes uninteresting if what we are shown through the image is encountered in reality; and the contrary, too: what pleases us in reality, we are indifferent to in the image of this pleasing reality if we don’t confuse real and surreal, and surreal with subreal” (quoted in H. Torczyner,?Magritte: Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, p. 109).
The cropped female torso that serves as the protagonist of Stimulation objective was one of Magritte’s favorite motifs. At some point in the early 1930s, he acquired a plaster cast of a nude torso, a readily available artists’ tool that was frequently used in art schools for students to master the depiction of human anatomy. Magritte likely purchased this torso, which was cast from life rather than a classical sculpture, from the Maison Berger, the art store in Brussels owned by his sister-in-law, where he purchased all his artistic materials. In 1932, this object first appeared in two works, titled La belle de nuit (Sylvester, no. 346) and Quand lheure sonnera (no. 347). The following year he painted the interior scene, La Lumière des coincidences (no. 352), now in the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, in which the torso is framed and illuminated by a candle, before painting the visual antithesis of this in Stimulation objective, which features a daylit, external landscape. This gouache likely served as the inspiration for the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou’s Les marches de l’été, 1938 or 1939 (Sylvester, no. 466), which features the same nude torso on a window sill, though this time, the sky and sea beyond are broken into constructed blocks.
The plaster torso allowed Magritte to play with notions of reality and artifice, forcing the viewer to question what is imagined and what is real within the scene. Often appearing like a relic of the ancient past transported into an unknown landscape, this motif also allowed Magritte to explore the concept of time. Like the Metaphysical paintings of the Surrealist hero, Giorgio de Chirico, who had similarly included a classical torso with a bunch of bananas in his L’incertitude du poète (The Tate Gallery, London), Magritte’s combination of a classical motif within a contemporary setting induced a strange temporal juxtaposition, fusing different time periods and places to create a single, timeless image. He would continue to play with these concepts, and, in 1945, chose to paint the cast of the torso itself (Sylvester, no. 703), which, in classic Magritte fashion, he named La Peinture.
Following the 1939 Palais des Beaux-Arts exhibition, Edward James purchased three out of four works from the Stimulation objective, including the present gouache. This would be James’s last major purchase of Magritte’s work. A wealthy and eccentric English aristocrat, through the 1930s, James had become an important patron and ardent devotee of Surrealism. In 1934, he had begun to acquire the work of Salvador Dalí, before becoming an important supporter of Magritte, commissioning three large paintings by the artist, which he completed over the course of a three week stay in London in the spring of 1938.

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