RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Artistic Journey – A Distinguished West Coast Collection
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

Le monde visible

RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
Le monde visible
signed 'Magritte' (lower right); titled and inscribed '"LE MONDE VISIBLE" 1947' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 31 7/8 in. (100.2 x 81.1 cm.)
Painted in 1962
Renée Lachowsky and Lou Cosyn, Brussels (probably acquired from the artist).
L. Lachowsky, Antwerp (by 1971).
Harry Forster, Antwerp; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 15 May 1984, lot 75a.
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s, London, 8 February 2005, lot 74.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owners.
A. Robbe-Grillet and R. Magritte, La Belle captive, Brussels, 1975, pp. 40 and 154 (illustrated in color, p. 39; dated 1947).
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1949-1967, 1993, vol. III, p. 369, no. 956 (illustrated).
Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art and Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art, Rétrospective René Magritte, May 1971-September 1971, no. 32 (illustrated; dated 1947).
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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Painted in 1962, Le monde visible is a striking example of René Magritte’s intensely enigmatic brand of Surrealism, in which he sought to combine simple quotidian objects in unusual combinations in order to reveal the powerful mystery inherent in the everyday world. Set within a seemingly deserted beachscape, a small, roughly textured boulder sits atop a covered table, while gentle waves lap against the sand. Though a thin crescent moon hangs in the sky above the sea, the scene is illuminated by another unseen source, which casts a strong light from outside the bounds of the canvas onto the stone, highlighting its planes and crevices, and the myriad tones that mark its surface. Executed in the artist’s characteristically descriptive, precise painterly style, all is natural, and yet puzzling, encapsulating Magritte’s belief that, “it’s not a matter of painting ‘reality’ as though it were readily accessible to me and to others, but of depicting the most ordinary reality in such a way that this immediate reality loses its tame or terrifying character and presents itself with mystery” (quoted in H. Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, transl. R. Miller, New York, 1977, p. 203).
From the early 1950s onwards, Magritte had been fascinated by the impenetrability of stone, proclaiming that unlike man-made objects, “stone does not think” (interview with Jacques Goossens, 1966, in A. Blavier, ed., René Magritte: Écrits complets, Paris, 2009, p. 627). This suspension of thought was, in turn, a source of great mystery, imbuing even the most ordinary, common-place rock with an intense unknowability and power within a composition. As a result, petrification became an important and recurring theme in Magritte’s work, with traditional still-life subjects, landscapes, animals and figures suddenly transformed entirely to stone. For the artist, subjecting familiar objects and characters to such unexpected, strange transformations was an essential tool in his quest to jolt viewers from their passive acceptance of reality. “The creation of new objects; the transformation of known objects; the alteration of certain objects’ substance,” he explained, “all these, in sum, were ways of forcing objects finally to become sensational” (quoted in H. Torczyner, op. cit., p. 216).
At the same time, individual, organic rocks and boulders frequently became the central protagonists in a range of scenarios and situations, in some cases appearing weightless, floating impossibly over the landscape, or alternately remaining resolutely tied to the earth as mysterious, towering monuments. In works such as the 1954 painting Le monde invisible (Sylvester, no. 805; The Menil Collection, Houston), meanwhile, Magritte enacts an unexpected dislocation, placing the large stone in a traditional domestic interior. The oversized rock appears to be the only object in the room, standing before the open doors of a Juliet balcony, which looks out onto the vast body of water below. This setting, which has drawn comparisons to a number of Henri Matisse’s interior scenes from Nice, such as La robe jaune (1931; Baltimore Museum of Art), has been rendered with an almost cartoonish simplicity and flatness, suggesting that the room is in fact a stage set or piece of scenery. This lends the composition an inherent theatricality, as well as the sense that nothing is as it seems, each element simply another layer in a carefully constructed tableau.
In Le monde visible, Magritte continues to explore this tension between interior and exterior, real and artificial space, transporting a cloth-covered table from its traditional position in a dining room or salon to the sandy expanse of the shoreline. Selecting a more modestly sized rock, which he positions in a place traditionally reserved for a centerpiece of food or flowers, the artist conjures a scene that is rooted in the familiar, and yet confounds explanation, leaving the viewer to question why these objects have been brought together, and by whom. A soft mist fills the distant horizon, blurring the boundary between water and sky, lending an additional level of mystery to the composition. Unlike the stormy, rough conditions of other seascapes from this period, there is an eerie stillness to the present composition, the surface of the water almost impossibly smooth until it reaches the shoreline, where small little wavelets break against the sand. The proximity of the water to the piece of furniture suggests the tide is drawing in, slowly approaching the table, and that it may soon be subsumed by the sea. Considered in this context, the solid, weighty rock at the center of the scene suddenly becomes a functional object, weighing the table down in a futile attempt to prevent it from floating away.
By placing recognizable, everyday objects in such surreal combinations, Magritte stripped them of their normal associations, rendering them fantastical and uncanny. However, the power of these dislocations and transformations lay in their subtlety, the very fact that they centered on ordinary elements that were then cast in unexpected situations. “I do not juxtapose strange elements to shock,” he stated in 1965, shortly after painting the present work. “I describe my thoughts of mystery which is the union of everything and anything we know” (quoted in S. Whitfield, Magritte, exh. cat., The South Bank Centre, London, 1992, p. 17). Although the reverse of the canvas includes an inscription of 1947 in the artist’s hand, Le monde visible appears in Magritte’s 1964 list as among the works completed in 1962. According to the catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work, “The date in the inscription was one of those inventions Magritte resorted to when selling a work behind [Alexander] Iolas’s back,” referring to his agreement with the New York-based gallerist, but which he frequently circumnavigated by adding earlier dates to his canvases (D. Sylvester, op. cit., p. 369).

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