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

L'évidence éternelle: genoux

RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
L'évidence éternelle: genoux
oil on canvas
8 x 8 ¼ in. (20.3 x 21 cm.)
Painted in 1954
Suzi Gablik, Virginia, a gift from the artist in 1960; sale, Christie's, New York, 14 November 2017, lot 406.
Private collection, New York, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Letter from René Magritte to Alexander Iolas, 13 January 1954.
Letter from Alexander Iolas to René Magritte, 1 May 1954.
D. Sylvester, ed., S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1949-1967, London, 1993, no. 807 (3), pp. 231 & 232 (illustrated p. 231; with inverted dimensions).

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

Lot Essay

Sometimes, Surrealism is a question of focus. In L’évidence éternelle: genoux René Magritte presents the viewer with a framed portrait of a pair of knees. The cropping of a Northern Renaissance portrait has been pushed to an absurd extreme in this intimate painting with its deep purple background. The knees appear both specific yet anonymous, detached from the face which might identify their owner, while the purple background evokes the royal or religious pictures of old. The extreme focus on one part of the body allows this painting to recall reliquaries as well as medical specimens. In fact, L’évidence éternelle: genoux was originally intended to form part of a larger composition of five paintings that Magritte set out to create in 1954. It appears the work was never completed; instead, this canvas and another focusing on the subject’s breasts were gifted by the artist to the author Suzi Gablik in 1960, who wrote the first significant English-language monograph on Magritte.
Magritte had initially tackled the subject of L’évidence éternelle in 1930, using his wife Georgette as a model (Sylvester, no. 327; The Menil Foundation, Houston). At the time of its creation, Magritte referred to the first iteration of the image as a toile découpée, or ‘cut-up canvas’ (see D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, London, 1992, p. 349). This was one of several explorations of the cut-up canvas that he created around this time, alongside others showing a landscape and a segment of the sky (Sylvester, nos. 328 & 329). Magritte was clearly intrigued by the prospect of creating a nude portrait that showed only five cropped and framed areas of the subject’s body. The resulting group of small canvases featured in a number of contemporary photographs in which they were posed together in a dingy basement, with laundry hanging nearby, the fragmentary body suspended like an apparition. ‘I show only parts of the body,’ Magritte explained to Paul Nougé that year, ‘but situated where they should be: each of these small pictures is framed, or fixed, on a pane of glass’ (quoted in ibid., p. 349).
The painting of knees belongs to Magritte’s third iteration of L’évidence éternelle, as the artist had also revisited the subject in 1947-1948, using a different model (Sylvester, no. 640; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Like the 1930 version, this second version was originally mounted on glass, though Magritte also hoped to include a plaque along the bottom, a detail that appears never to have been added. The features used in the 1948 version formed the basis for the top panel of the projected third version, to which the present L’évidence éternelle belongs.
The head of the 1954 group of canvases remained with Magritte until his death, and was ultimately given its own title: La ressemblance (Sylvester, no. 807 (1); Private collection). This demonstrates that by the time the artist gave Gablik two of the canvases from the sequence in 1960, he had forsworn any intentions of retaining them together, instead viewing them as distinct, individual works. This has more recently been corroborated by Catherine Defeyt and Francisca Vandepitte, who were part of a team that carried out a forensic examination of another painting, La toile de Pénélope of 1958, which showed a blond female subject with a joltingly red nose (Sylvester, no. 893; Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique). Beneath the surface of the painted image, they located another composition depicting a pair of feet, which would have occupied the bottom position of the five original panels of the 1954 version of L’évidence éternelle (C. Defeyt, F. Vandepitte, E. Herens and D. Strivay, ‘Discovery and material study of the missing feet part from Magritte’s L’évidence éternelle of 1954,’ Heritage Science, vol. 7, 2019). This canvas had clearly also remained in Magritte’s hands for several years, before being overpainted with the new composition.
During its execution in 1954, Magritte discussed L’évidence éternelle with his dealer, Alexandre Iolas, giving the dimensions of the five intended canvases which he intended to send him (letter to Iolas, illustrated in D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, London, 1993, p. 231). In that letter, he ironically illustrated only the panel which remains unaccounted for, showing the model’s midriff, navel and sex. However, L’évidence éternelle was never sent to Iolas; the panels instead became separated while still in Magritte’s ownership. In 1960, he offered the two panels of breasts and knees to Gablik, an artist and writer who had made a number of friends within the art world of New York, and who was living with him at the time. As well as introducing Robert Rauschenberg to Jasper Johns, she was also romantically involved with Harry Torczyner. It was Gablik who had suggested that Torczyner focus his collection on Magritte, and also that he contact the artist. Torczyner in turn became a friend of Magritte’s and become a de facto representative in the United States (see J. Stieber, ‘Oral history interview with Suzi Gablik 2015,’ Archives of American Art, at
After Torczyner’s first visit to Magritte, he returned with a letter from the artist asking Gablik about the contents of a hamburger. This was the beginning of a correspondence that culminated in Gablik staying with Magritte’s and his wife Georgette at their home, in order to research a possible monograph on the artist. Arriving in 1959, Gablik remained with Magritte, party to his thoughts and activities, for eight months, an experience that allowed her to write the perceptive book, Magritte, which was ultimately published in 1970. It remains an invaluable resource on the artist and his career to this day. Because of this connection, L’évidence éternelle stands both as an intriguing work of art, and as a testimony to the friendship between Magritte and his close friend and chronicler. Of the two panels given to Gablik, L’évidence éternelle: genoux remained in the author’s personal collection for almost sixty years, while the other composition she sold to her friend Robert Rauschenberg.

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