RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF SOPHIA LOREN AND CARLO PONTI
RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

La lumière du pôle

RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
La lumière du pôle
signed ‘Magritte’ (lower right); inscribed ‘"LA LUMIÈRE DU PÔLE”’ (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
54 3⁄4 x 41 1⁄4 in. (139 x 104.8 cm)
Painted in 1926-1927
Galerie Le Centaure, Brussels.
E.L.T. Mesens, Brussels & London, by whom acquired from the above in 1932.
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels, by whom acquired from the above in 1968.
Galleria Internazionale, Milan, by whom acquired from the above in 1968.
Condotti 75 [Maria Laura Drudi Gambillo], Rome (no. 07.49).
Sophia Loren & Carlo Ponti, Rome.
Private collection, Brescia, by whom acquired from the above in the early 1990s.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
P.-G. van Hecke, ed., ‘René Magritte: peintre de la pensée abstraite’, in Sélection, vol. VI, no. 6, Brussels, March 1927, p. 447 (illustrated; titled 'Le Sommet du pôle').
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Oil Paintings, 1916-1930, London, 1992, no. 129, p. 202 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Magritte, Brussels, 2009, p. 10 (illustrated; illustrated again p. 8).
S. Levy, Decoding Magritte, Bristol, 2015, p. 122.
A. Danchev & S. Whitfield, Magritte, A Life, London, 2021, pp. 131-132 & 387 (illustrated p. 132).
Brussels, Galerie Le Centaure, Exposition Magritte, April - May 1927, no. 47.
New York, Julien Levy Gallery, René Magritte, January 1938, no. 3.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Dertien belgische schilders, October - November 1952, no. 56.
Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Figuratie, defiguratie. De menselijke figuur sedert Picasso, July - October 1964, no. 170, p. LXII.
London, Zwemmer Gallery, René Magritte, July 1966, no. 3.
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte, cent cinquante oeuvres: première vue mondiale de ses sculptures, January - February 1968, no. 25 (with inverted dimensions).
Milan, Finarte, Mostra di opere d'arte contemporanea, November 1968, no. 13 (illustrated).
Rome, Condotti 75, circa 1970.
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Magritte, October - November 1973, no. 11, p. 35 (illustrated p. 60).
Paris, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Magritte, February - June 2003, p. 61 (illustrated p. 60; with incorrect medium).
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. Christie's has provided a minimum price guarantee and has a direct financial interest in this lot. Christie's has financed all or a part of such interest through a third party. Such third parties generally benefit financially if a guaranteed lot is sold. See the Important Notices in the Conditions of Sale for more information.
Sale room notice
Please note this work is in free circulation within the UK and is not under temporary admission as stated in the printed catalogue.

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Lot Essay

La lumière du pôle emerged during one of the most productive and innovative periods of René Magritte’s early career, as he boldly embraced Surrealism and began to develop a unique visual aesthetic that would soon propel him to the forefront of the European avant-garde. Revelling in the unexpected juxtapositions that emerged between familiar objects arranged in strange configurations and situations, Magritte ruminated on the order and stability of perceived reality, playing with notions of artifice, illusion and representation, to unpick and challenge our very understanding of the world. Discussing this period of his career, the artist explained the intentions which underpinned his earliest forays into Surrealism: ‘The pictures painted […] from 1926 to 1936 were… the result of a systematic search for a disturbing poetic effect which, produced by the deployment of objects taken from reality, would give the real world from which they were borrowed a disturbing poetic meaning through a quite natural interchange’ (quoted in D. Sylvester, Magritte, Brussels, 2009, p. 284). Infused with a distinct sense of mystery, La lumière du pole is a captivating example on a large scale of this quest for a ‘disturbing poetic meaning’ in Magritte’s work during the 1920s, and highlights the different themes, subjects and concerns which fuelled his creative vision at this time.

Magritte’s fascination with the surreal had initially been sparked by an artistic epiphany he experienced upon first encountering the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico in the summer of 1923, when he came across a reproduction of the Italian artist’s 1914 composition Le chant d’amour. Describing the impact of De Chirico’s strange, uncanny worlds, Magritte wrote: ‘This triumphant poetry replaced the stereotyped effects of traditional painting. It represented a complete break with the mental habits peculiar to artists who are prisoners of talent, virtuosity and all the little aesthetic specialities. It was a new vision through which the spectator might recognise his own isolation and hear the silence of the world’ (quoted in ibid., p. 71). Though it would take a full two years for the artist to process this revelatory experience, it would fundamentally re-orientate Magritte’s painterly style, instilling his work with a feverish new energy that lead him to abandon the cubo-futurist vocabulary which had hitherto dominated his painting, and instead develop the disjointed and surreal visual world that would become his artistic trademark. Throughout the rest of the 1920s, he boldly explored the limits of this new language, in order to reveal the innate mysteries of our reality.

In La lumière du pole, De Chirico’s influence can be felt in the disquieting, unsettling atmosphere Magritte conjures and the sparse, expansive, stage-like space of the scene, as a pair of cracked and partially broken fashion mannequins stand amidst a desert-like landscape of steep-sided sand dunes. Behind them, a heavy, foreboding sky holds the threat of an oncoming storm, layers of thick grey cloud rolling in waves above the two humanoid characters, whose purpose and presence within the scene remains unknown. Though warmly coloured and depicting the sinuous, curvaceous lines of the female body, the mannequins appear precariously delicate, as their extremely thin, shell-like exteriors are dramatically fragmented and shattered, creating large gaping holes that offer a glimpse into dark interiors. While the deconstruction of the human figure, and in particular the female nude, was a chief preoccupation within Magritte’s oeuvre during this period, here the artist uses the fragmented bodies to explore the play between artifice and reality, as the deceptively realistic three-dimensional figure is revealed to be nothing more than a hollow, empty shell.

To the right of the two mannequins, a strange, amorphous object appears to hover above the undulating dunes, its form filled by overlapping layers of fur that subtly shift in tone and texture as they fall in rippling waves. Offering an intriguing textural counterpoint to the smoothness of the humanoid objects it is paired with, this strange, rippling stream of fur recalls the illustrations Magritte created for the autumn catalogue of the furrier ‘Maison Ch. Müller. S. Samuel et Cie’ in 1926, which showcased the season’s latest designs. Featuring images of fourteen coats and four elegant stoles, the catalogue offered pithy, poetic texts alongside the illustrations, many of which seemed to parody contemporary advertisements and cast the images in a surreal light. In La lumière du pôle, Magritte divorces the fur cape from its traditional place across a model’s lithe form, removing any details that suggest the presence of a body underneath, instead allowing it to appear to float completely unsupported in mid-air.

A similar motif appears in the 1927 composition Le sens de la nuit (Sylvester, no. 136; The Menil Collection, Houston), where the addition of truncated limbs and a glimpse of undergarments suggests a human presence within its folds, accentuating the fetishistic qualities of the fur. In La lumière du pole, the upper edge of the fur element is marked by a lighter-toned layer of what appears to be gently curling human hair, presumably belonging to the figure who would typically wear the garment in a fashion illustration. By removing the model’s face here, essentially cutting her out of the picture, Magritte creates a sharp-edged beak shape, imbuing the fur with a bestial, bird-like quality that enlivens the inanimate object in an unexpected manner.

Casting no shadow, this fur element in La lumière du pôle appears to sit apart from the landscape in which it hovers, as if existing on an entirely different plane to everything else in the scene. Indeed, there is an unusual sense of perspective at play across the entire image, that appears to shift and change as the eye moves through the composition. In certain places, objects appear to float on top of one another in flat, overlapping planes, as if cut from another image and pasted into place. As such, La lumière du pôle appears to mimic the style and effects of papiers collés, a technique Magritte had been experimenting with intensely since the end of 1925, largely inspired by the ground-breaking works of Max Ernst. For Magritte, Ernst’s bold experiments in collage represented a radical shift in the act of art making, breaking through the traditional parameters by which an artist was judged: as he explained, ‘scissors, paste, images and genius in effect superseded brushes, paints, models, styles, sensibility and that famous sincerity demanded of artists’ (quoted in S. Whitfield, Magritte, exh. cat., London, 1992, p. 260).

Liberating the artist’s creativity, papiers collés became an integral aspect of Magritte’s oeuvre, and over the course of the following two years he produced approximately thirty works using this technique. Alongside this, a number of paintings from this period adopted a similar stylistic aesthetic to these collages, most notably in their sharply delineated forms and the juxtaposition of various elements and objects in unexpected groupings. However, the link between the two techniques ran much deeper than just visual similarities, with some paintings directly quoting elements and motifs from the papiers collés Magritte was working on. Indeed, both the distinctive shape of the fur element and the fragmentation of the female mannequins in the present work can be directly linked to an untitled papier collé of the same year (Sylvester no. 1618; Private Collection). In the painting, Magritte develops the idea further, creating an altogether more unsettling image through the application of rich colour, and the placement of the objects in this barren, dark landscape.

La lumière du pôle was featured in the artist’s first one-man show, held at the Galerie Le Centaure in Brussels during the spring of 1927. Comprised of 49 recent paintings and 12 papiers collés, this was the first opportunity for Magritte to reveal his new Surrealist aesthetic to the public and proved to be a seminal moment in his early career, announcing the artist as an important talent in the European avant-garde scene. Indeed, Magritte later proclaimed that the event was ‘my first exhibition that truly represented what I consider valuable in my work’ (quoted in A. Umland, ed., Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, exh. cat., New York, 2013, p. 232). The critical response, however, was less than enthusiastic: ‘The sense of freedom [my pictures] revealed naturally outraged the critics, from whom I had expected nothing anyway,’ the artist later recalled. ‘I was accused of everything. I was faulted for the absence of certain things and for the presence of others’ (in H. Torczyner, op. cit., p. 215). In spite of the negativity from the press, the exhibition earned Magritte a loyal group of followers and supporters, who deemed him the first great Belgian Surrealist.

One such early supporter was the poet, musician, editor, gallerist and collector E.L.T. Mesens, who had met the artist while he was still a youth. Turning to art dealing in 1924, Mesens played a central role in the promotion of Surrealism in Belgium, running the Galerie L’Epoque in Brussels, and later Britain, where he ran the London Gallery alongside Roland Penrose. His support for Magritte remained constant throughout the 1930s, leading him to organise a number of exhibitions dedicated to the artist’s work, as well as purchasing paintings directly from him in times of financial hardship. At its height, Mesens’s collection included such seminal early masterpieces as Magritte’s Le groupe silencieux, L’assassin menacé, Les jours gigantesques and Les chasseurs au bord de la nuit, to which La lumière du pôle was added in 1932. The painting was subsequently acquired by the legendary Italian actress Sophia Loren and her husband, film producer Carlo Ponti in the late 1960s, and remained in their esteemed collection for over three decades.

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