RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection
RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

La femme au miroir

RENE MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
La femme au miroir
signed 'Magritte' (lower left); titled '"LA FEMME AU MIROIR"' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
29 x 21 5/8 in. (73.6 x 54.8 cm.)
Painted in 1943
M. Spiegel, Antwerp (by 1964).
Galerie Isy Brachot, Paris and Brussels (acquired from the above, 1984).
Diego Cortez Arte, Ltd., New York (acquired from the above, March 1986).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 26 March 1986.
J. Van Melkebeke, "A propos d'une exposition: René Magritte" in Le Nouveau journal, 12 January 1944, p. 2.
R. Magritte, Dix tableaux de Magritte précédés de descriptions, Brussels, 1946.
R. Magritte, La destination: Lettres à Marcel Mariën, 1937-1962, Brussels, 1977, pp. 197-198.
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings and Objects, 1931-1948, London, 1993, vol. II, p. 328, no. 548 (illustrated).
Brussels, Galerie Dietrich, René Magritte, January 1944.

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Lot Essay

Painted during the closing months of 1943, René Magritte’s La femme au miroir highlights the divergent influences that were shaping the Belgian Surrealist’s artistic vision during the turbulent years of the Second World War. Living in the shadow of the conflict, Magritte felt that a new visual idiom was required to adequately respond to the horrors of the war, and began to experiment with a distinctly Impressionistic technique, inspired by the late career of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. “The German occupation marked the turning point in my art,” Magritte explained. “Before the war, my paintings expressed anxiety, but the experiences of war have taught me that what matters in art is to express charm. I live in a very disagreeable world, and my work is meant as a counter-offensive” (quoted in S. Gablik, Magritte, London, 1992, p. 146).
Creating works filled with light, color and vivid, free brushwork, Magritte called this new style Le Surréalisme en plein soleil (Surrealism in full sunlight), and believed that in combining the aesthetic pleasure of beautiful, color-filled scenes with subversive, mysterious images, he could best reveal the inherent chaos of the world. Writing to his friend Paul Éluard in 1941, Magritte described this shift in his art: “I have managed to bring a fresh wind to my painting. In my pictures an enormous magic has now replaced the uncanny poetry whose effect I used so much to strive for. On the whole, pleasure now supplants a whole series of essential interests that I wish increasingly to leave out of account... the power of these pictures is to make one acutely aware of the imperfections of everyday life” (letter to Paul Éluard, December 1941; quoted in S. Gohr, Magritte: Attempting the Impossible, New York, 2009, p. 191).
The female body was a key element within this strategy of disruption, and Magritte celebrated the sensuous, elegant forms of women in numerous paintings throughout this period, his statuesque models evoking classical precedents of the female nude as the embodiment of beauty. Using a range of soft, pastel hues, the figure in La femme au miroir appears wrapped in a plain sheet, as if caught in the midst of her toilette, while behind a great mass of rapid, feathery brushstrokes are woven together to conjure a dream-like space. Contrary to the title, no mirror is glimpsed in the composition—rather, the woman appears to glance down at her own hand, caught in an internal moment of contemplation instead. As Magritte later stated, “The titles of pictures are not explanations, and pictures are not illustrations of titles. The relationship between the title and picture is poetic—that is, it only catches some of the object’s characteristics of which we are usually unaware, but which we sometimes intuit, when extraordinary events take place which logic has not yet managed to elucidate” (quoted in K. Rooney and E. Plattner, eds., René Magritte: Selected Writings, trans. J. Levy, London, 2016, p. 112).
Shortly after it was completed, La femme au miroir was featured in the invitation booklet to Magritte’s solo exhibition at the Galerie Dietrich, which opened on 8 January 1944. The show marked the true public debut of the artist’s Surréalisme en plein soleil works, and featured approximately twenty canvases dedicated to the style. Paul Nougé provided a preface for the booklet under the pseudonym Paul Lecharentais, a prudent decision as the exhibition and his text soon came under attack from Marc Eemans, a painter formerly associated with the Belgian Surrealists who had become an avid supporter of the Nazi’s campaign against so-called “Degenerate Art.” However, Eemans was not alone in his criticism of the exhibition—several reviewers took a scathing view of Magritte’s new style; he, nonetheless, remained undaunted. In a letter to Marcel Mariën from early March, Magritte reconfirmed his commitment to Surréalisme en plein soleil: “As I have already told you, I will only retain the forms which produce a charm, such as that of beautiful things, flowers, young girls, spring…” (letter to Marcel Mariën, 3 March 1944; quoted in Magritte, Renoir: Le surréalisme en plein soleil, exh. cat., Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, 2021, p. 156).

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