RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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Property from the Collection of Noel Thomas Patton
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

Le Séducteur

RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
Le Séducteur
signed 'Magritte' (upper right); dated, titled and numbered '"LE SÉDUCTEUR" (III) 1951' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
19 ¾ x 23 5/8 in. (49.4 x 60 cm.)
Painted in 1951
Jean Bourjou, Brussels (acquired from the artist, probably in 1951, until at least 1968).
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels (acquired from the above, circa early 1980s).
Samir Traboulsi, Paris (acquired from the above).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 22 June 1993, lot 74.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Meuris, Magritte, Paris, 1988, p. 145, no. 217 (illustrated in color; dated 1953 and with incorrect dimensions).
D. Sylvester and S. Whitfield, René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1949-1967, London, 1993, vol. III, p. 178, no. 755 (illustrated).
Brussels, Galeries Dietrich and Lou Cosyn, Magritte, April 1951, no. 13.
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte: Cent cinquante œuvres, January-February 1968, no. 95.
(possibly) Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte, March-May 1979, no. 46.
Paris, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte, February-April 1984, no. 16.
London, The Hayward Gallery, The South Bank Centre; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Houston, The Menil Collection, Magritte, May 1992-May 1993, no. 104 (illustrated in color).

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Lot Essay

René Magritte’s Le Séducteur of 1951 presents an impossible mirage. A large ship floats amid tranquil waters yet it is seemingly composed from the sea on which it sails. No longer made of wood, the ship appears as a cut-out of the water itself, an otherworldly apparition passing silently through the scene. This is the third of four oil depictions of this motif and the only one to be painted in a highly stylized manner (Sylvester, nos. 749, 754, 755, 786). Unlike the other oil paintings of this series, the waves are rendered in a simplified, abstract style, rather than the hyper realistic handling of the choppier waters in the rest of the group. As David Sylvester has written, “The third version in oil, painted in 1951, far surpasses the others, and this is because it involves further metamorphosis—that of the image into a calligraphic skein, the marks at once regular and alive and with a beautiful and relaxed rhythm” (Magritte, Brussels, 2009, pp. 369-372).
The image of a spectral vessel drifting upon the ocean is reminiscent of the famous seventeenth-century ghost ship, The Flying Dutchman, the legend and often reported sightings of which Magritte would likely have been aware. One explanation for the supposed sightings of the boat was an optical illusion known as fata morgana. Caused by specific atmospheric conditions, objects appear inverted on the horizon, reflected in the sky so to appear as if floating above the sea below. Magritte has played with a similar visual distortion in Le Séducteur, turning the boat into a mirrored reflection of the sea.
With this motif, Magritte successfully solved one of his famed pictorial “problems.” As he wrote in a letter of 1951, the same year that he painted the present work, “In connection with the ‘genesis’ of my pictures… They related to images arrived at through deliberate and conscious research starting from some object or other considered as a ‘question’ (Le Séducteur being the answer to ‘the question of water,’ research consisting in a kind of ‘frantic contemplation,’…of the question. In practice, this is done by spending days making drawings almost always the same and representing water until such a time as in a given drawing an idea for a form of water appears, after which the remaining work is a matter of technique)” (quoted in D. Sylvester and S. Whitfield, op. cit., 1993, pp. 173-174).
Magritte’s continuous quest for pictorial “solutions” to various “problems” enabled him to constantly challenge and reconfigure the most ubiquitous and commonplace elements of everyday life. Since 1932, when, awaking from sleep he mistakenly glimpsed an egg instead of a bird in a bird cage, Magritte had sought to reveal the undiscovered yet indissoluble connections—“elective affinities”—between hitherto seemingly unrelated objects. “I became certain that the element to be discovered, the unique feature residing obscurely in each object, was always known to me in advance, but that my knowledge of it was, so to speak, hidden in the depths of my thought… my investigation took the form of trying to find the solution of a problem with three points of reference: the object, the something linked to it in the obscurity of my consciousness and the light into which this something had to be brought” (“La Ligne de vie,” 1938, in G. Ollinger-Zinque and F. Leen, eds., René Magritte 1898-1967, exh. cat., Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, 1998, p. 47).
To achieve this, the artist explored affinities between objects through his painting. The “problem” of the bird was solved by depicting an egg in a cage; the “problem” of the door with a shapeless hole cut through it; the tree, with a leaf-tree. He resolved the dilemma of water by turning an object closely associated with this element—a boat—and subverting the viewer’s conception of it by depicting it from water too. This method of combining the banal with the extraordinary enabled Magritte to create a vision at once conceivable and yet ultimately impossible. He described this in 1962, when he wrote to his cousin, a keen amateur painter, Aline Magritte, “As for my painting, it does not show anything imaginary… It shows a total reality, i.e. reality with its mystery, not separated from its mystery. (To see a boat on the water is a vision of reality separated from mystery. To see water in the shape of a boat, is to evoke mystery and to see the water and the boat). To see the image of water which has the shape of a boat is not too bad a manifestation of the world, I think?” (quoted in op. cit., 1993, p. 174).

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