René Magritte (1898-1967)
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René Magritte (1898-1967)

Ceci n'est pas une pomme

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Ceci n'est pas une pomme
signed 'Magritte' (lower left)
oil on unilite
557/8 x 393/8in. (142 x 100cm.)
Painted in 1964
Acquired directly from the artist in 1964 by his sister in law Léontine Hoyez-Berger, Brussels.
Pierre Hoyez, Brussels.
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels, by whom acquired directly from the above.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owners.
R. Passeron, René Magritte, Paris 1970 (illustrated in colour p. 49).
ed. D. Sylvester, René Magritte, catalogue raisonné: oil paintings, objects and bronzes 1949-1967, vol. III, Antwerp 1993, no. 989 (illustrated p. 394).
Charleroi, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 41e salon du Cercle Royal Artistique et Littéraire de Charleroi, Hommage à René Magritte, February 1968, no. 136.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, René Magritte, June-July 1969, no. 109.
Paris, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte, February-April 1984, no. 20 (illustrated in colour on the cover of the catalogue).
New York, Arnold Herstand, René Magritte: Paintings, November-December 1986.
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, René Magritte et la pensée, January-February 1993, no. 202.
Montreal, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Magritte, June-October 1996, no. 31 (illustrated p. 117).
Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordhein-Westfalen, René Magritte, November-March 1997, no. 27 (illustrated in colour p. 113).
Brussels, Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, René Magritte, March-June 1998, no. 220.
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Lot Essay

(Magritte, quoted in S. Gablik, Magritte, London, 1992, p.133).

Ceci n'est pas une pomme ('This is not an apple') unites two of René Magritte's most famous iconographical elements, the apple and the 'Ceci n'est pas…' concept. The apple only really began to play a significant part in Magritte's works in 1950, but reappeared in so many guises, on so many scales, that it has become one of his dominant trademarks. Here it is given a monumental status slightly shocking for a fruit - the canvas and the apple on it are gigantic, as are the words, written in such a controlled calligraphic manner. Magritte's apples were often monumentalized, shown made of stone or on a disproportionate, impossible scale compared to the accompanying objects. In giving such predominance to such a simple fruit, Magritte managed to discreetly disrupt artistic tradition, for instance upsetting the entire concept of the still-life by giving predominance to the fruit, not to the artist or the tromp-l'oeil effect of the painting. Magritte showed that the apple was a central part of his visual canon in various photographic portraits of him holding one. More significantly, in The Son of Man, one of only five self-portraits he painted, his face is hidden behind a floating apple. Magritte himself was one of the rarest elements in his own paintings, and for him to have painted himself with an apple emphasizes its importance.

The 'Ceci n'est pas…' motif first appeared in 1929 in La trahison des images ('The Treason of Images'), which depicts a pipe and underneath it the words 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' ('This is not a pipe'). Its simple yet profound iconoclasm guaranteed its amazing success, and it has become the most famous of Magritte's images. Magritte himself played down the originality of this exploration of the discrepancy between sign and object: "If I had written on my picture 'This is a pipe,' I'd have been lying!" (Magritte, quoted in H. Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, trans. R. Miller, New York, 1977, p.118).

Magritte reproduced this 'not-pipe' many times in many permutations, but his use of a non-apple is extremely rare. He painted a gouache showing the apple and the sentence 'Ceci n'est pas une pomme' in 1958 which can be seen as the inception of the present painting. He then produced a small oil version which was bought by Max Ernst and defaced when Ernst painted a caged bird in the apple, and wrote underneath 'Ceci n'est pas un Magritte', an addition which prompted only a forced laugh from the Belgian. The third and final version is the present picture. The reuse of the 'Ceci n'est pas…' concept is part of a general movement in Magritte's later work, when he showed renewed interest in his earlier subject matter, revisiting favorite themes and treating them with a new maturity and the benefit of hindsight. The apple replacing the pipe is thus not a continuation of an old theme, but an extensive revision.

Magritte's sister-in-law Léontine Hoyez-Berger asked him for a Cubist picture to decorate her shop, but instead received this work. It was not the only example of Magritte painting for a specific location: he had created a mural for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Charleroi and for the Casino Knokke-Heist in Knokke-Le-Zoute in Belgium. Ceci n'est pas une pomme's individual octagonal shape is a legacy of its being painted for a specific location in the shop, making it reminiscent of Old Master panels removed from the chapels and palaces for which they were made. The cropped corners are therefore evidence of the very personal nature of the creation of this painting: it was painted by Magritte for a specific location, for a specific family member. The location of Ceci n'est pas une pomme, a painting which denies the truth of its own representational capacity, in a shop, an institution reliant on the customer's suspension of disbelief when confronted with adverts, is a reflection of Magritte's penchant for discreet and understated subversion. In executing this rare and remarkable painting he created an anti-poster, a placard of Surrealist propaganda.

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