RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
9 More
Surrealist Dream: The Shirley Ann and Frank Wozencraft Collection
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

Les grâces naturelles

RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
Les grâces naturelles
signed, dated, numbered and stamped with foundry mark 'Magritte 1967 5/5 Gi-Bi-Esse FONDERIA ARTISTICA VERONA-ITALY' (on the top of the base)
bronze with brown patina
Length: 37 1/8 in. (94 cm.)
Width: 17 ¼ (43.6 cm.)
Height: 40 ¼ in. (102.3 cm.)
Conceived and cast in 1967
Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners, December 1969.
P. Rouve, "Space conquered" in Art and Artists, London, August 1968, pp. 24-27 (another cast illustrated).
R. Melville, "Changing the world" in The Architectural Review, London, September 1968, pp. 209-210, no. 12 (another cast illustrated, p. 210).
S. Gablik, Magritte, Greenwich, 1970, pp. 179 and 181, no. 164 (another cast illustrated, p. 179).
J. Meurius, Magritte, Paris, 1988, pp. 199 and 202, no. 312 (another cast illustrated, p. 202).
D. Sylvester and S. Whitfield, René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1949-1967, London, 1993, vol. III, p. 464, no. 1092 (another cast illustrated); vol. V, p. 58, no. 1092.
Houston, Institute for the Arts, Rice University, Secret Affinities: Words and Images by René Magritte, October 1976-January 1977, p. 28.

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Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

At the beginning of 1967, René Magritte began an ambitious project to transform a selection of his painted motifs into three-dimensional form. He created a total of eight large bronze sculptures (Sylvester, nos. 1087-1094), each of which brings to life the illusionistically-rendered images of his painting. By translating one medium to another, Magritte masterfully expanded his life-long desire to reveal the mystery inherent in the everyday world through his art. Transforming his fantastical juxtapositions of imagery from the canvas into tangible form, he made a final great leap in his artmaking.
“Once again, Magritte has reshuffled the pack of our conceptual cards,” the critic Pierre Rouve wrote upon first seeing the sculptures in 1968. “Born as paintings, Magritte’s sculptures suddenly surge among us in a miracle of transubstantiation: ghosts haunt us not because they have shed their too, too solid flesh but because they have conjured it. This change of identity cries out for our investigation: what happens to a painting that turns into a sculpture? Is it a mere physical translation or is it an occult metaphysical transmutation? With Magritte the halo of mystery and the flutter of ambiguity emerge unscathed from this uncommon leap” (“Space Conquered,” in Art and Artists, August 1968, vol. 3, no. 5, 1968, p. 25).
Les grâces naturelles is based on one of the artist’s most recognizable motifs: the “leaf-bird,” a fantastical object pictured as it transforms from plant to avian. Magritte invented this subject at the beginning of the 1940s, perhaps inspired by the view of an aviary filled with birds that was visible from the window of his home at 135 Rue Esseghem in Brussels. The “leaf-bird” would continue to proliferate in his work. The first canvas titled Les grâces naturelles was painted in 1947 (Sylvester, no. 618). “Everything offered to our gaze on this canvas is distinguished in the highest degree by natural grace,” Magritte wrote of this subject in his Titres of 1948 (quoted in D. Sylvester and S. Whitfield, op. cit., 1993, vol. II, p. 378). The present work is most closely related to the final realization of this motif painted in 1964 (Sylvester, no. 987).
The concept of metamorphosis had long fascinated Magritte. In addition to juxtaposing two seemingly unrelated, often quotidian objects together upon a canvas, in the late 1920s, Magritte began to merge different elements, picturing them in a moment of transition or flux. “I have found a new potential inherent in things,” the artist wrote to his friend, the poet Paul Nougé in 1927, “their ability to become gradually something else, an object merging into an object other than itself… This seems to me to be something quite different from a composite object, since there is no break between the two substances, and no limit” (quoted in ibid., vol. I, pp. 245-246). It is this type of gradual transformation that lends the “leaf-bird” its compelling sense of wonder. While his earliest meditations on metamorphosis had focused on nude women in the midst of turning into wood or the sky, with the “leaf-bird” paintings Magritte presents a subtler approach to the theme, invoking the many processes within the natural world in which one thing evolves into another. In the present bronze, Magritte was able to take the idea of metamorphosis a step further, lifting his beloved “leaf-bird” out of the canvas to exist in three-dimensions, and, in so doing, bringing this impossible object to life.
The inception of the sculptures began after a conversation Magritte had with his long-time dealer, Alexandre Iolas, in January 1967. “While leafing through the book about him that had just been published,” Iolas explained, “I questioned him about surrealist objects such as painted bottles and asked him if he had ever thought of making sculptures. With total firmness, he answered ‘yes’, but that in sculpture he would not do anything different from his pictures; that he would never make a formal sculpture like a sculptor; that his sculpture would express his ideas. When we saw each other a few weeks later, he said that he could already see ‘which paintings would make Magritte sculptures’” (quoted in ibid., vol. III, p. 139).
Despite the ambitious scale of the project, the creation of Magritte’s sculptures was swift. As soon as he had selected the motifs from his back catalogue of paintings, he created working drawings with precise measurements for each three-dimensional work, “which he seemed to have no difficulty in visualizing or transposing,” Suzi Gablik has written (op. cit., 1970, p. 181). Iolas contracted the Gibiesse foundry in Verona to work up full-scale wax models of each sculpture. These were complete by mid-June, at which time Magritte traveled to the foundry and made several modifications to the waxes. He then signed off each model and gave approval to cast them in bronze.
Unfortunately, Magritte never saw the final realization of his sculptural vision. He passed away unexpectedly in August of 1967. The first bronze casts left the foundry in November of this year. Each sculpture was issued in a numbered edition of five, plus an artist’s proof that was delivered to Magritte’s wife, Georgette. The present work is 5/5 and was acquired by Shirley and Frank Wozencraft directly from Iolas two years later in 1969. For the past 45 years, it was the beloved centerpiece of their family home. Another bronze from the edition is now housed in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich.

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