RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

La voix du sang

RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
La voix du sang
signed ‘Magritte’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
31 1/8 x 23 1/8 in. (79.1 x 58.6 cm.)
Painted in 1948
Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist, 8 August 1949).
Adelaide de Menil, Houston (acquired from the above, 1 January 1955); sale, Christie's, New York, 11 November 1997, lot 167.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
L. Scutenaire, Magritte, Antwerp, 1948, p. 13 (illustrated, pl. 20).
P. Demarne, Rhétorique, September 1961, no. 3 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Magritte, New York, 1969, p. 8.
C. Moser, "Magritte's Show is One Step Beyond Surrealism” in Houston Chronicle, 3 October 1976.
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1931-1948, London, 1993, vol. II, p. 419, no. 668 (illustrated).
New York, Hugo Gallery, René Magritte, May 1948, no. 21.
(possibly) Brussels, Galerie Lou Cosyn, Les tableaux parlants de René Magritte, February-March 1949.
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Facetten van hedendaagse schilderkunst: België, Luxembourg, Nederland, June-August 1949, no. 66 (illustrated).
New York, Hugo Gallery, Magritte, March-April 1951, no. 5 (illustrated on the cover).
Dallas, Museum for Contemporary Arts and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, René Magritte in America, December 1960-February 1961, no. 24 (illustrated).
New York, Albert Landry Galleries, René Magritte in New York Private Collections, October-November 1961, no. 50.
Little Rock, Arkansas Art Center, Magritte, May-June 1964 (illustrated; detail illustrated on the cover).
Houston, Rice University, Institute for the Arts, Secret Affinities: Words and Images by René Magritte, October 1976-January 1977, p. 26.
Oregon, Portland Art Museum; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; New Orleans Museum of Art and Seattle Art Museum, Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, October 2015-May 2017, p. 134, no. 33 (illustrated in color, p. 315).
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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

“The words dictated by our blood sometimes seem mysterious to us. Here it seems we are ordered to open up magic niches in the trees.” These words were René Magritte’s only direct attempt to explain the evocative title shared by an iconic series of paintings including La voix du sang. Translated by David Sylvester as Blood Will Tell, or literally, “the voice of blood,” the turn of phrase conjures a viscerally eerie mood, a feeling that something sinister might be lurking just beneath the canvas. But to Magritte, something else is afoot: a moment of beautiful compulsion, of being beckoned by that which eludes us—a call from the soul “to open up the magic niches in the trees” (“On Titles,” in K. Rooney and E. Plattner, eds., René Magritte: Selected Writings, Richmond, 2016, p. 115). Magritte famously resisted interpretations of his work that amounted to the one-to-one decoding of symbols: a house always symbolizes “x”, or a sphere “y”. The artist’s brief words on the present work push us to consider this compelling work as more than Surrealist algebra. La voix du sang is Magritte’s ode to the fantastical moment of stumbling across a rabbit hole, and the mysterious, prelinguistic urge to tumble down.
It’s little surprise Claude Spaak argues that Magritte first found the germ of what would become La voix du sang in Lewis Carroll’s Victorian classic Alice in Wonderland (D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1993, vol. II, p. 208). The Surrealists considered the mind-warping and playful tale to be a rich premonition of their intervention in modern art in the twentieth century. Certain lines must have made a lasting impression on Magritte; Carroll writes, “[Alice] noticed that one of the trees had a doorway leading right into it. ‘That’s very curious!’ she thought, ‘but everything's curious today: I may as well go in.’ And in she went” (Alice’s Adventures Underground, manuscript written and illustrated 1862-1864, p. 66). Carroll illustrated this charming moment of childhood curiosity on the page opposite the text. David Sylvester suggests that this literary influence, along with an illustration of cork harvesting in the Petit Larousse encyclopedia, inspired Magritte to paint L’arbre savant, 1935 (Sylvester, no. 384; Private collection). It was here that Magritte first rendered the image that would become La voix du sang. A rootless tree trunk fashioned with four cubbies occupies an ambiguous setting. This tree qua cabinet contains a collection of dutifully-rendered objects: a small bunch of metal wire, a pyramid, and a lit candle. The top door is ajar, perhaps opening or closing, hiding a fourth object from the viewer. It would be twelve years before Magritte returned to the subject in an oil painting—only after the Second World War and the artist’s corresponding “Renoir period” came to a close.
In 1947, Magritte returned to his widely-beloved style with tenacity and verve, recapturing what his art dealer and friend Alexandre Iolas described as “the mysterious, poetic quality of [his] former pictures” (quoted in ibid., p. 155). That year, Magritte painted the first iteration of La voix du sang (Sylvester, no. 625; Private collection). Sylvester notes the ample changes between the earlier L’arbre savant and this painting: “the scene is now nocturnal, the tree in full leaf, and there are now three cupboards, as against four, in the trunk; the top, as before is ajar, the others contain a sphere and a house” (ibid., p. 384).
Magritte’s new selection of objects contained in the cabinet-like tree deepen the mystery of the image—where there was prior a lit candle, a house with lights in the windows is tucked neatly into the lowest cubbyhole. The scale of the scene becomes simultaneously incomprehensible and fascinating. Magritte’s deft employ of paradoxical scale is clearly seen in one of the artist’s favorite paintings: Chant d’amour, 1914 by Giorgio de Chirico (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Magritte said of De Chirico’s masterpiece, “This triumphant poetry supplanted the stereotyped effect of traditional painting. It represented a complete break with the mental habits peculiar to artists who are prisoners of talent, virtuosity and all the little aesthetic specialties. It was a new vision through which the spectator might recognize his own isolation and hear the silence of the world” (quoted in ibid., p. 61).
Magritte would paint two further canvases the following year titled La voix du sang, 1948 (Sylvester, nos. 660 and 668; Private collection and the present lot). In the former, Magritte experimented with foreclosing the natural scenery surrounding his subject, obscuring all but a sliver of the view with a red curtain. In the present work (the latter of the 1948 canvases), Magritte changed course, doing away with the red curtain altogether and reframing the scene to include the entirety of the tree with a generous swath of picturesque scenery. The vista stretches far behind the grassy foreground and stars dapple the sky, framing the tree’s dark canopy. The image of the cabinet-like trunk is still central to the composition, but now a world surrounds it. Much more than in previous iterations, in the present work, Magritte imbues viewers with an unexpectedly rich impression of natural beauty.
Sylvester suggests the influence of German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich in La voix du sang (D. Sylvester, Magritte, London, 1969, p. 8). Friedrich showcases a moment of nonoptional revelation in the experience of the natural sublime. The Romantic’s passionate landscapes suggest that humanity is at home in God’s world, that beauty is evidence of things not seen. Magritte, however, suggests something else. As the artist once stated, “I think the picturesque can be employed like any other element, provided it is placed in a new order or particular circumstances” (quoted in H. Torczyner, Magritte: The True Art of Painting, New York, 1977, p. 120). Magritte leverages the picturesque landscape with his strikingly surreal tree to propose that we might truly be at home, not in the world uncovered, but the world concealed. Where Friedrich sees mystery as something to be answered by the absolute sublime, Magritte intensifies the mystery of the world as such in his picturesque scene. To completely uncover the world, to Magritte, would be to have nothing left to inhabit.
Magritte would revisit the imagery of La voix du sang habitually, both in the close-cropped and the full-scene compositions, executing gouaches, lithographs, and two final canvases in oil in 1959 and 1961 (Sylvester, nos. 905 and 928; Museum moderner Kunst, Siftung Ludwig, Vienna and Private collection) at the request of Alexander Iolas and on commission, respectively. It is telling that when Magritte was commissioned to design a monumental mural to envelop those who step into the Casino Communale at Knokke-le-Zoute, the imagery of La voix du sang featured prominently among his most renowned motifs.
The painting was acquired by the photographer, collector, and philanthropist Adelaide de Menil in 1955, and remained in her esteemed collection for over forty years. Inheriting her interest in modern art from her parents Dominique and John de Menil, Adelaide built an eclectic collection over the years, combining paintings, sculptures and objets d’art by artists such as Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti and John Chamberlain, alongside a diverse array of objects from her extensive travels around the world with her partner Ted Carpenter, an anthropologist and author. Adelaide’s early interest in Magritte was most likely influenced by her parent’s extensive holdings of the artist’s work, leading her to purchase La voix du sang from Magritte's dealer, Iolas, when she was just twenty years old.

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