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

Les belles réalités

RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
Les belles réalités
signed 'Magritte' (lower left); titled '"Les belles Réalités"' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
19 5/8 x 15 3/4 in. (50 x 40 cm.)
Painted in 1962
(probably) René Gérain, Brussels.
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels (probably acquired from the above, 1968).
Private collection, Europe (acquired from the above, 1980).
Di Donna Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, 2019).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2019.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Bosmans, 28 March 1962.
Letter from R. Magritte to H. Torczyner, 3 October 1963.
H. Michaux, "En rêvant à partir de peintures énigmatiques" in Mercure de France, Paris, December 1964, p. 597.
H. Torczyner, Magritte, Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, pp. 120 and 268, no. 209 (illustrated in color, p. 120).
H. Torczyner, L'ami Magritte: Correspondance et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, no. 301.
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1949-1967, New York, 1993, vol. III, p. 360, no. 945 (illustrated).
D. Ottinger, ed., Magritte, Montreal, 1996, p. 32 (illustrated).
J. Meuris, René Magritte, Cologne, 2004, pp. 96-97 (illustrated in color, p. 97; dated 1964).
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Dix maîtres contemporains, June-August 1968, no. 45 (illustrated).
Hanover, Kestner Gesellschaft and Kunsthaus Zürich, René Magritte, May-July 1969, no. 72.
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, L'éternel surréalisme (hommage discret à E.L.T. Mesens), October-December 1970, no. 41.
Knokke, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte, March-April 1971, no. 8.
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Delvaux, Gnoli, Magritte, November-December 1974, no. 47.
Paris and Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte, January-May 1979, no. 29.
Milan, Galleria del Milione, René Magritte: Il buon senso e il senso delle cose, May 1984, no. 18 (illustrated in color; dated 1964).

Brought to you by

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

Lot Essay

Filled with a playful sense of whimsy, Les belles réalités is a prime example of René Magritte’s mature Surrealist style, presenting a scene so unexpected and jarring that it instantly catches our eye and demands our attention. Here, an enormous apple floats mysteriously in mid-air, while a table, covered in a simple white cloth, perches on top of its curved edge. Inverting the typical relationship between the two objects, whereby the apple would usually be placed onto the much larger table, Magritte upends our expectations and reveals the endless potential for mystery and revelation that exists in the world around us. In a letter to his patron and lawyer Harry Torczyner in October 1963, the artist described his thinking behind the composition: “‘Les belles réalités’ is in keeping with the idea that the much vaunted ‘sense of reality’ must not be understood in accordance with the deep-rooted prejudice that ‘reality’ is always ugly, exhausting, etc.” (quoted in D. Sylvester, op. cit., p. 360).
Large spherical forms, with their allusions of the harmonious and the cosmic, held an enduring appeal for Magritte, appearing in various forms throughout his career, from the enigmatic grelot bells he recalled from his youth, to giant hot-air balloons. The apple, however, with its own wider connotations of Newtonian physics and the Enlightenment, was among the most frequent iterations of the shape in the artist’s work. Appearing in countless different situations and scenes, the Magrittean apple is one of idealized perfection, its smooth, bright green surface catching the light and exhibiting no visible flaws or quirks. As such, it was most likely inspired by an illustration from the pages of a botanical or fruit catalogue, several of which were found among the artist’s possessions, rather than from life. For Magritte, it was the everyday familiarity of such items that allowed him to conjure such a distinct sense of mystery in his work: “My paintings show objects deprived of the sense they usually have,” he explained. “They are shown in unusual contexts... Ordinary objects fascinate me. A door is a familiar object but at the same time it is a bizarre object, full of mystery...” (“The Enigmatic Visions of René Magritte,” Life, 22 April 1966, pp. 113-119; quoted in R. Magritte, Ecrits complets, Paris, 1992, pp. 609-611).
For Magritte, one of the most intriguing possible transformations of the apple lay in the amplification of its size, allowing the typically handheld fruit to become something massive and imposing. For example, in the artist’s celebrated 1952 composition La chambre d’écoute (Sylvester, no. 779), an oversized apple fills the entirety of a simple, ordinary room, its giant spherical form almost touching the ceiling and each of the walls. By deliberately distorting the piece of fruit to dramatically enormous proportions, Magritte disrupts the viewer’s understanding of the scene, imbuing the apple with a strange, otherworldly quality, while also forcing us to question whether the room is as large as it first appears. By contrast, in the present painting the apple floats freely against a rippling blue expanse, occupying the center of the picture field but with apparently endless room to continue growing. By casting the apple into this open space, Magritte suggests that it has been entirely let loose from the gravitational pull of the earth, allowing it to float weightlessly upwards, into the atmosphere. The table, meanwhile, seems to act as a downward counterforce, as if attempting to ground the apple once again, or at least halt its ascension.
Magritte turned to the question of gravity on numerous occasions through the 1950s and 60s, casting unexpected objects and elements into mid-air, from boulders and baguettes to crowds of bowler-hatted men, while in others he brought celestial bodies, such as the moon, down to earth. Through such dislocations, “the force of gravity, which we dismiss as commonplace in our daily lives, becomes powerful and awesome…” Magritte explained (quoted in H. Torczyner, op. cit., 1977, p. 154). Indeed, by drawing our attention to one of the most fundamental, unseen forces that governs our experience of the world, the artist forces us to consider anew our passive acceptance of this scientific fact and instead appreciate its inherent magic, leading us to question our very understanding of “Les belles réalités” of life.

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