RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE BELGIAN COLLECTION
RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

Portrait de Madeleine Goris

RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
Portrait de Madeleine Goris
signed 'Magritte' (lower left)
gouache on paper
7 x 9 3/4 in. (17.8 x 24.8 cm.)
Executed in November 1953
Baron Jan-Albert Goris, Antwerp & New York, by whom commissioned directly from the artist, and thence by descent to the present owner.
Letter from Magritte to Jan Albert Goris, 6 November 1953.
Letter from Magritte to Jan Albert Goris, 9 December 1953.
H. Torczyner, René Magritte, signes et images, Paris, 1977, no. 405, p. 259 (illustrated p. 194; titled 'Madeleine' and dated '1960').
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. IV, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés, 1918-1967, Antwerp, 1994, no. 1368, p. 162 (illustrated).
Dallas, Museum for Contemporary Arts, René Magritte in America, December 1960 - January 1961, no. 71, n.p. (titled 'Portrait of the Quatuor'); this exhibition later travelled to Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, February 1961.
New York, Albert Landry Galleries, René Magritte in New York Private Collections, October - November 1961, no. 42, n.p. (titled 'Le Quatuor' and dated '1956').
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Lot Essay

Raising her eyebrows, Madeleine Goris turns her charming and piercing blue eyes towards us, raising her shoulders coyly and instantly captivating her viewers with her playful and yet sophisticated gaze. Placed on a balustrade just behind Madeleine are her three beloved cats: Nino, Blackie and Michel. The spirited quartet are submerged in patterns that are ­profoundly characteristic of Magritte’s oeuvre in the 1950s, when this work was executed: namely, the open eye and bells punctuated on what appears to be a metal curtain. Dominated by various shades of pink and peach tones, with the pale blue of Madeleine’s eyes as the central climax of the composition, this palette is as refined and exquisite as the work’s sitter.

Unfortunately, scarce information survives on the compelling protagonist of this gouache. Instead, historical records seem to have been far more favourable towards her husband. Madeleine, shown here in 1953, was the wife of celebrated Belgian author and civil servant Jan Albert Goris, who often published his works under the pseudonym of Marnix Gijsen. Having left Belgium for New York in the spring of 1940 to embark on his diplomatic career, Goris did not abandon his literary pursuits, publishing in 1948 Het boek van Joachim van Babylon, a novel he decided to dedicate to his beloved Madeleine. A few years later, in the early 1950s, Goris first met René Magritte. While precise details about their first encounter are unknown, it is certain that by 1953 the artist felt comfortable enough to address the author as ‘Mon cher Goris’ in a letter that bears particular significance both for the present work and as a record of Magritte’s artistic process more generally.

In fact, a group of two surviving letters from Magritte to Goris testify to the commission of the ‘Portrait de Madeleine Goris’. Reading between the lines, one can easily discern a relationship founded on mutual respect and even affection. In 1953, when the first letter to Goris was sent, Magritte had been living for the past twenty years in the rue Esseghen in Jette, a suburb of Brussels, having long decided to escape the hustle and bustle of Paris.

From the comfort of his own home, on 6 November of that year, Magritte writes to his friend in New York: ‘My dear Goris, it is with pleasure that I will execute the gouache Madeline-Nino-Blackie Michel. But from now to Christmas, could you possibly send me some photographs, in which one could see in a postcard-like format the face of the person, and, among others, the full figures of the three cats? This is not absolutely necessary, but wished for, in order to obtain a better result’. This passage attests to at least two crucial aspects: the first is the familiarity of the way in which the artist addresses the author, evident in the opening line (‘my dear Goris’), as well as in the way he refers to the subjects of his work (‘Madeline-Nino-Blackie-Michel’). The second, perhaps even more interesting point to consider, is his request to obtain pictures of his subject, with specific requirements in terms of size, ‘in order to obtain a better result’. We can imagine that Goris must have sent the pictures to Magritte, as the instantaneous vivacity of Madeleine’s gaze can easily suggest a photographic source.

Magritte painted a portrait of Goris himself five years after the completion of this work. Comparison with some pictures of the sitter taken in 1930 suggests that Magritte’s photographic requirements may not have changed during those intervening years: the Portrait of Jan Albert Goris seems to reflect precisely on his surviving photographs – could he have sent it to Magritte?

When recounting the personal relationships that contributed to the commissioning of this work, there is one (or better, three) that have not yet been discussed: Nino, Blackie and Michel. The three kittens stare at their viewer with an intensity almost comparable to that of their owner. They were, after all, crucial elements of the composition, protagonists in their own way, as Magritte’s letter seems to suggest. Between the 1940s and 50s, cats must have been on Magritte’s mind, as these were the years in which he also painted and sketched Raminagrobis. Raminagrobis was the cat at the centre of one of the fables (namely, The Cat, the Weasel and the little Rabbit) of La Fontaine, in which the animal settles a dispute between a rabbit and a weasel by having them place themselves on scales and then striking at both of them with his claws: the mischievous look in the eyes of Nino, Blackie and Michel suggest that they would not be scared to do so, if one were to disturb their master…

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