RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

Souvenir de voyage

RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
Souvenir de voyage
signed 'Magritte' (lower left)
oil on canvas
15 7/8 x 12 in. (40.1 x 30.2 cm.)
Painted in August 1958
Harry Torczyner, New York, by whom commissioned from the artist.
Bodley Gallery, New York, by whom acquired from the above by 1962.
Private collection, United States, by whom acquired from the above in 1964; sale, Sotheby's, London, 4 December 2000, lot 3.
Acquired at the above sale; sale, Sotheby's, London, 3 February 2009, lot 25.
Guggenheim, Asher, Associates, United States.
Private collection, United States.
Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.
Acquired from the above by the present owners in 2020.
Letter from Magritte to Harry Torczyner, 8 October 1958, in H. Torczyner, L’ami Magritte. Correspondence et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, p. 86.
Letter from Magritte to Harry Torczyner, 20 October 1958, in H. Torczyner, L’ami Magritte. Correspondence et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, p. 87.
H. Torczyner, Magritte, Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, no. 85, p. 61 (illustrated; titled 'La Nuit de Pise').
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1949-1967, London, 1993, no. 881, pp. 294-295 (illustrated p. 294).
New York, Bodley Gallery, Magritte: Paintings, Gouaches, Collages, Drawings, October 1962, no. 9 (illustrated; dated '1952' and titled 'la tour de pise').
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, on loan, 1970.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Magritte, December 1977, no. 17 (titled 'La nuit de Pise').
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. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Ottavia Marchitelli
Ottavia Marchitelli Senior Specialist, Head of The Art of The Surreal Sale

Lot Essay

A feather leans against the Tower of Pisa, seemingly stopping it from falling any further. In René Magritte’s Souvenir de voyage of 1958, the artist has perfectly displayed the mysterious and near-magical world of paradoxes with which he addressed the world around him, prompting his viewers to appreciate the universe afresh. Souvenir de voyage is all the more important as it was painted for one of Magritte’s great friends and supporters, the Belgian-American lawyer and poet Harry Torczyner, who would also come to publish a celebrated monograph on the artist, Magritte: Ideas and Images. Alongside a portrait and a version of the iconic L’empire des lumières, this was one of three canvases that Torczyner commissioned from Magritte shortly after the beginning of their friendship.
Set against a barren landscape infused with the soft pink of dusk, Souvenir de voyage strips the Tower of Pisa of its urban surroundings. The iconic campanile instead appears as though it has been dropped into a new context. Next to it is the monumental feather, painted in the same stony hues as the tower itself. This structural behemoth is therefore presented as an anti-feather, a buttress supporting the leaning tower, perhaps explaining, or preserving, the rakish angle at which it has for so long stood. The campanile’s juxtaposition with the feather – regardless of its stone-like grey colouring – adds a sense of the ephemeral, the ethereal, as though this was a situation that had recently developed. Yet impossibly, those same stone colours also indicate a relationship that might span eons, the two entities fossilised together.
In this, Souvenir de voyage continues Magritte’s exploration of a theme that had featured in several slightly earlier works. In a work of the same title from 1955, now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Magritte showed an interior in which every element was depicted as though made of stone. This included a man, Marcel Lecomte, as well as a lion, a candle, apples, wooden floorboards and even a ruined tower in a framed landscape on the wall. In that painting, the apples, candle, lion and human all introduce a notion of transience that here is echoed by the feather; meanwhile, the stone of the surroundings finds its parallel in the Tower of Pisa. But in this later Souvenir de voyage, Magritte adds a sense of tension through the angle of the tower itself. Magritte has introduced a precarity that is only augmented by the fact that the belltower appears to be withstanding gravity only thanks to the intervention of the feather leaning against it.
Magritte’s use of the contrast between the sturdiness of the leaning tower and the lightness and fragility of the feather is emphasised by the fluffy rendering of the latter’s tip and edges. At the top, glimmers of the sky appear to peek through cracks between the barbs. This contrast between monumentality and lightness allows Magritte to evoke the celebrated tales of the experiments that Galileo Galilei undertook while a professor in Pisa. Positioning Galileo as one of the great originators of physical experimentation, his biographer Vincenzo Viviani recounted that he had taken objects of different weights but similar volumes, dropping them from the tower in order to prove that they would travel at the same speed (V. Viviani, Le opera di Galileo Galilei, Edizione nazionale, A. Favoro (ed.), Florence, 1890, p. 606). This was a contrast to the earlier theories espoused by Aristotle, which posited that if a light weight and a heavier one were dropped together, the heavier would travel faster.
In a sense, Souvenir de voyage channels Galileo’s thinking, visually expressing the perhaps surprising anti-Aristotelian reality that objects of similar size but different mass nonetheless fall at similar speeds. Just as the giant floating monolith in La voix active of 1951 (St Louis Art Museum) challenges our appreciation of gravity, so too Souvenir de voyage is a bracing reminder that natural laws can sometimes, when viewed afresh, seem almost magical. Magritte’s pictures thus form a parallel to Galileo: just as his discoveries placed the Sun, and not the Earth, at the centre of our solar system, challenging existing assumptions about existence, so too Magritte constantly begs us to look at the world anew, appreciating the near-magical properties that exist all around us.
Souvenir de voyage extends the visual journey that saw him exploring petrified transience in various forms. Where here the viewer is presented with the Tower of Pisa and a feather, in other works Magritte probed similar contrasts, for instance the stone lightning in Le château hanté of 1950 (Sprengel Museum, Hanover). These can be seen as continuations of the core visual juxtaposition in the painting that had been such a revelation to Magritte earlier in his career, Giorgio de Chirico’s Le chant d’amour of 1914 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). There, a classical bust is shown next to a rubber glove and a ball, images of antiquity and modernity, rigidity and flexibility presented against a timeless Italianate townscape. In Souvenir de voyage, the Tower of Pisa and stone feather act as analogues for those original motifs which had provided such a springboard for Magritte’s unique vision of the world.
In the initial precursors to Souvenir de voyage, Magritte had depicted the Tower of Pisa propped up by a vast spoon, rather than a feather. This motif first appeared in an illustration that Magritte created for Vendredi in 1949. A gouache of 1952 entitled La nuit de Pise also showed the spoon; Magritte showed his consciousness of its Italian subject matter by even suggesting it as an image for the catalogue accompanying an exhibition to be held at the Galleria dell’Obelisco in Rome in 1953 (a show which Magritte was pleased to learn was visited by De Chirico). That year, the tower began to appear supported by a feather, not least in the monumental panel that formed part of Le domaine enchanté, the suite of murals Magritte created for the Casino Communal in Knokke-le-Zoute. Its description read: ‘A leaning-tower, delicately supported by a feather, tones down its glittering’ (R. Magritte quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. III, London, 1993, p. 213). The inclusion of this motif within this frieze, which reproduced many of Magritte’s most celebrated and iconic themes, reveals his own awareness of its visual potency.
This was reflected by Magritte’s return to the theme, not least in a horizontal version of La nuit de Pise from 1958. Formerly part of the storied collection of the philanthropist Drue Heinz and donated by her trustees to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, that work features a sky made of assembled cubes, as was the case in the casino mural. Magritte explained to Torczyner that in Souvenir de voyage, the vertical composition and dusk-infused background mean that:
‘The Tower of Pisa is […] new, with its necessary feather. The background differs from those of the other versions of this picture, so that they can be distinguished one from another – and also so as not to lose the possibility of seeing the Tower against a sky lit by the setting sun’ (R. Magritte, letter to Torczyner, 3 October 1958, quoted in Sylvester (ed.), Ibid., p. 294).
Torczyner was a successful Belgian-born New York-based lawyer and poet who had been introduced to Magritte towards the end of 1957, visiting the artist’s home in Brussels. The pair immediately bonded, Torczyner becoming a regular correspondent. Magritte asked Torczyner if he would help with some matters in the United States; he thus became his ‘ambassador’ (H. Torczyner, op. cit., 1977, p. 10). Over the coming years, Torczyner acquired a number of significant works from Magritte. As one of the first, Souvenir de voyage is therefore an important testimony to their productive friendship.

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