5 minutes with… Magritte’s Femme-Bouteille

5 minutes with… Magritte’s Femme-Bouteille

Specialist Jessica Fertig on the wine bottle that became a Surrealist masterpiece

‘It’s an amazing object,’ says Impressionist and Modern Art specialist Jessica Fertig, discussing René Magritte’s Femme-Bouteille — a highlight from a series of painted bottles by the artist.

‘It was a period in which it was very difficult for artists to get hold of canvas,’ Fertig explains. ‘Many, like Picasso, were working on paper or board. Magritte began to paint on wine bottles because they were readily available. Those on which he painted female nudes have become among his most coveted.’

René Magritte (1898-1967), Femme-Bouteille, painted circa 1941. Oil on glass bottle, height 11 ¾ in (29.8 cm). This work was offered in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 12 May at Christie’s in New York and sold for $725,000

René Magritte (1898-1967), Femme-Bouteille, painted circa 1941. Oil on glass bottle, height 11 ¾ in (29.8 cm). This work was offered in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 12 May at Christie’s in New York and sold for $725,000

Femme-Bouteille is painted in oil on a bottle used for Bordeaux wine, which the artist appears to have favoured — not necessarily for its contents, Fertig clarifies, but for its tall, straight sides. ‘Magritte very purposefully counters the curving forms of the female body he represents. His shading emphasises the illusion, following the Surrealist idea of taking an object and transforming it into something it is not.’

A recent discovery emphasises the work’s exceptional history. ‘A letter was found from British fashion designer Hardy Amies, one of Femme-Bouteille’s former owners,’ says Fertig. Amies had been posted to Brussels during the war. In the letter he writes, ‘Upon leaving, I was presented with the Magritte bottle.’ It was a gift from painter Olivier Picard, who had been given the bottle by leading Belgian Surrealist Paul Delvaux.  

‘This is a wonderful piece,’ concludes Fertig. ‘There’s always something alluring about Magritte’s women. This bottle fully envelops the female form, from its curves to the hair that cascades down its back. This lot really is one of my favourites — a Surrealist sculpture that combines painting.’