Ren Magritte (1898-1967)
Ren Magritte (1898-1967)

La magie noire

Ren Magritte (1898-1967)
La magie noire
signed 'magritte' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 21 1/4in. (65 x 54cm.)
Painted in 1942
Georges Van Extergem, Belgium
D. Sylvester, Ren Magritte, catalogue raisonn: oil paintings and objects 1938-1948, vol. II, London 1993, no. 507 (illustrated p. 301).
Exh. cat., The Montreal Museum of Arts, Montreal, Magritte, June-October 1996, no. 40 (illustrated p. 130).
Malines, Cultureel Centrum Burgemeeter A. Spinoy, De Menselijke figuur in de kunst 1910-1960, September-November 1971, no. 80.
Tokyo, Galerie des Arts de Tokyo Shibuya, Ren Magritte August-September 1982, no. 52 (illustrated in colour). This exhibition later travelled to Toyama, Muse d'Art de la Prfecture, October 1982; Kumamamoto, Muse d'Art de la Prfecture, October-December 1982.


La Magie Noire ("Black Magic") is Magritte's version of the popular Surrealist theme of the transformatory statue. In his inimitable style Magritte combines the animation of flesh and blood with the cold inanimacy of stone into one powerful and surprise.

A theme that perhaps has it origins in the ancient Greek story of Galatea, the notion of the transformed statue was a common subject amongst Magritte's fellow Surrealists from de Chirico to Ernst.

Magritte, who had once been heard to exclaim sardonically that he preferred a beautiful woman to a beautiful statue and a beautiful statue to a beautiful woman, here presents a striking image of the cold sexuality that he and many others of the Surrealist group associated with women. Using, as so often, his wife Georgette as the model, Magritte here presents a surprising number of paradoxes in one startling central image.

Magritte wrote in a letter to Paul Noug in January 1948: "One idea is that the stone is linked by some Affinity to the earth, it can't raise itself, we can rely on its generic fidelity to terrestial attraction. The woman, too, if you like. From another point of view, the hard existence of stone, well-defined, 'a hard feeling', and the mental and physical system of a human being are not unconnected". (Magritte: Ideas and Images, New York 1977, p. 173.)

In addition to this, the solid material quality of the stone is deliberately contrasted with the dematerialisation of the woman's face into the exact same blue of the sky so that the mystery of the divison between earth and sky is also heavily implied.

With all the startling contrasts existing within this strangely believable image, the most intense focus comes to rest on the woman's warm blooded and soft hand gently resting on the cold hard stone. In the context of the weirdness going on all around it, this naturalistically rendered point of contact between the animate and the inanimate also assumes a surprisingly powerful resonance.