RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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Property from a Distinguished Private Collection
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

L'autre son de cloche

RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
L'autre son de cloche
signed 'Magritte' (lower left)
gouache on card
5 3/4 x 7 5/8 in. (13.5 x 19.4 cm.)
Painted in fall 1952
Galleria dell'Obelisco, Rome (acquired from the artist, December 1952).
Obelisk Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Paul and Rachel Mellon, New York (acquired from the above, 1954); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 10 November 2014, lot 1.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Letter from R. Magritte to G. del Corso, 6 November 1952.
Letter from R. Magritte to G. del Corso, 11 December 1952.
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés, 1918-1967, London, 1994, vol. IV, p. 149, no. 1344 (illustrated).
Rome, Galleria dell'Obelisco, Magritte, January 1953, no. 18.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Playing with concepts of illusion and perception, L’autre son de cloche presents a puzzling, enigmatic image that draws the viewer into René Magritte’s unique Surrealist world. An ordinary green apple appears to float mysteriously in the sky alongside the Earth, an unexpected pairing that is at once familiar and yet distinctly strange. Formerly in the renowned collection of Paul and Rachel (Bunny) Mellon, this exquisitely detailed gouache shares the subject of an oil painting from the previous year (Sylvester, no. 771; Private collection) of the same title, which translates to “The Other Story” or “A Different Version of Events.” Reportedly suggested to Magritte by the Surrealist poet Paul Nougé, this intriguing phrase appears to directly challenge the viewer, encouraging them to question and rethink their understanding of the objects before them and, by extension, reality itself.
By this stage of his career, Magritte had become increasingly adept at converting his vision into pictures that, through their iconic simplicity, conveyed their messages all the more strikingly. The apple was among the most frequent and recognizable of his leitmotifs during these years, appearing in various guises such as an enormous stone statue amid an empty landscape, anthropomorphized as a mysterious masked entity and, perhaps most famously, suspended in mid-air in a position that perfectly hides the face of a man wearing a bowler hat. For Magritte, it was the simple, everyday familiarity of the apple which allowed it to achieve such a powerful effect when placed in such unexpected situations: “…an apple, for instance, makes us ask questions,” he explained. “We don’t understand any more when we see an apple: all that is mysterious about it has been evoked” (Interview with Jean Neyens, in A. Blavier, ed., Écrits complets, Paris, 2001, p. 603).
In the present gouache, Magritte transports the piece of fruit to an extraordinary, unexpected setting—the apple hangs, apparently weightless, against a star-studded sky, its rounded curves mirroring the perfectly spherical form of the Earth it sits beside, enhancing its allusion to planets, moons and other celestial bodies. While in its open defiance of gravity the apple calls to mind Newtonian physics, a concept inextricably linked in the public conscious with the image of the apple falling to the ground, the true mystery of the painting lies in the juxtaposition between this quotidian object and the planet as a whole. The incongruity of this pairing is heightened further by the disparities in scale: either the apple is colossal in its dimensions, echoing the concept of paintings such as La chambre d’écoute and dwarfing the planet, or conversely Earth has shrunk to a Lilliputian size, easily held in the palm of our hand. However, whether or not this scene is a clever trick of the eye, an optical illusion or somehow a magical dislocation, remains a mystery.
The surreal quality of the image is further accentuated by the knowledge that at the time of its creation, such a view of Earth from space would have seemed impossible—photographs of the planet from this perspective would not appear for at least another decade. Unimpeded by the swirling white cloud cover that usually fills the atmosphere in such images, here the planet appears to have been modelled using a traditional cartographic globe, or perhaps illustrations from the novels of Jules Verne, such as Hector Servadac or De la Terre à la Lune, of which Magritte was an avid reader. A similar vision of the Earth lies at the heart of a painting from 1951, Le grand style (Sylvester, no. 763; The Menil Collection, Houston), in which the planet appears to sit atop the slender stem of a plant, as if it were a flower bursting to life. In L’autre son de cloche, Magritte fills the surface of both the apple and the globe with small, curving strokes of gouache, emphasizing their spherical forms, and granting them a sense of almost sculptural three-dimensionality against the pale blue sky, which in contrast appears like a piece of perfectly painted stage scenery.

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