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

La découverte du feu

Details
RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
La découverte du feu
signed ‘Magritte’ (lower right); signed again and titled ‘”La découverte du feu” Magritte’ (on the reverse)
oil on panel
8 ¾ x 6 3/8 in. (22.2 x 16.1 cm.)
Painted in 1936
Provenance
Claude Spaak, Brussels, by 1936.
M. De Moor, Antwerp, by 1968.
J. Komkommer, Antwerp; sale, Sotheby’s, London, 1 July 1987, lot 276.
Isy Brachot, Brussels, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Private collection, Belgium, by whom acquired from the above.
Isy Brachot, Brussels, by whom acquired from the above.
Anonymous sale, Christie’s, London, 3 April 1990, lot 375A.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
P. Colinet, Pour illustrer Magritte, Brussels, 1936.
P. Nougé, ‘René Magritte ou la révélation objective’ in Les Beaux-Arts, 1 May 1936, p. 19 (illustrated).
H. Michaux, ‘En rêvant à partir de peintures énigmatiques’ in Mercure de France, Paris, December 1964, p. 597.
P. Colinet, 'Pour illustrer Magritte' reprinted in Le fait accompli, no. 56, Brussels, December 1971, n.p.
D. Sylvester & S. Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, Oil Paintings and Objects, 1931-1948, Antwerp, 1993, no. 393, pp. 214-215 (illustrated p. 214).
Letter from Magritte to Harry Torczyner, 24 January 1959, in H. Torczyner, Magritte-Torczyner. Letters Between Friends, New York, 1994, pp. 35-37 (illustrated p. 36).
S. Gohr, Magritte: Attempting the Impossible, New York, 2009, fig. 7, p. 12 (illustrated).
R. Hughes, Magritte en poche. 400 oeuvres d'art par le maître du surréalisme, Antwerp, 2009, p. 424 (illustrated p. 163).
Exh. cat., René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle, Tate, Liverpool, 2011, p. 74 (illustrated p. 75).
D. Ottinger, Magritte. La trahison des images, exh. cat., Centre Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, 2016, pp. 124 & 199 (illustrated p. 124).
Exhibited
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, René Magritte: peintures, objets surréalistes, April - May 1936, no. 31.
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte: cent cinquantes oeuvres, January - February 1968, no. 126.
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte dans les collections privées, January - March 1988, p. 88 (illustrated p. 89).
London, The Hayward Gallery, Magritte, May - August 1992, no. 72 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, September - November 1992; Houston, The Menil Collection, December 1992 - February 1993; and Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, March - May 1993.
Brussels, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Magritte 1898-1967, March - June 1998, no. 111, p. 128 (illustrated).
Bielefeld, Kunsthalle, 1937. Perfektion und Zerstörung, September 2007 - January 2008 (illustrated on the cover and p. 431).
Special Notice

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Lot Essay


A spectacularly dramatic vision of a tuba engulfed in flames, Lacouverte du feu of 1936 is the final, most fully realised iteration of René Magritte’s celebrated series of works depicting burning objects. The incongruous combination of everyday objects set ablaze had first appeared in Magritte’s iconography in 1934 in a gouache entitled L’échelle du feu (Sylvester, no. 1108). Here the artist depicted a trio of quotidian items – a piece of paper, an egg and a key – each of which is alight with flames. The creation of this powerful visual motif was revelatory for Magritte; as he later described, it was akin to ‘the feeling experienced by the first men who produced a flame by rubbing together two pieces of stone. In my turn, from a piece of paper, an egg and a key, I caused fire to spring forth’ (quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. IV, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés, 1918-1967, London, 1994, p. 12).

That an inanimate object made of metal could automatically combust seemed to capture the very essence of Surrealism, the contrast between dream and reality, and so began Magritte's exploration of the subject and broadening of the theme. Magritte continued to explore the aesthetic potential of this subject. ‘You know the drawing in “Documents 34” [no. 1108] with burning objects made of different materials,’ he wrote to André Breton in July 1934. ‘A slightly different solution would be to present a single burning object provided it was made of iron, a key, a sewing-machine or a trumpet, for instance’ (quoted in Sylvester, ibid., vol. II, 1994, p. 190). After an oil composition of 1934, also titled L’échelle du feu, which depicts a piece of paper, a chair, and a tuba, all of which have similarly erupted into violent flames (Sylvester, no. 358), Magritte realised his ‘solution’ in Lacouverte du feu (1934-1935; Sylvester, no. 359), in which the instrument now stands alone, the contrast between flame and metal made all the more dramatic. The present work, painted in 1936, is the ‘more “precise”,’ in Sylvester’s words, most fully resolved visualization of Magritte’s initial idea (ibid., p. 191).

Magritte later explained this distillation of the flaming trumpet motif in a letter to André Bosmans in 1959: ‘I would remark further that Dalí is superfluous: the burning giraffe, for instance, is a caricature of an animal, an unintelligent exaggeration – since it is facile and unnecessary – of the image I painted showing a flaming piece of paper and a flaming key, an image that I later made more precise by showing only a single object in flames: a trumpet’ (ibid., p. 191).

When the present 1936 oil was exhibited by Magritte in his seminal one-man show held in the spring of the same year at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, he listed it as one of only two ‘tableaux-objets’ (‘picture-objects’), a category he had invented for an image that could either be hung like a picture upon the wall or placed on a flat surface like an object. There were also ‘objets’, which included Ceci est un morceau de fromage (Sylvester, no. 681). The other ‘tableau-objet’, La malédiction (Sylvester, no. 394), was, like the present work, an oil on panel, painted the same year.

By contrast to the dramatic flame that lights up Lacouverte du feu however, La malédiction presents a serene square segment of a cloud-filled sky, literally a ‘piece of sky,’ as Jacques Wergifosse described (quoted in ibid., p. 215). Taking these two natural elements – air and fire – Magritte not only rendered these two essentially immaterial forces tangible, but furthered this contrast by blurring the boundaries between a two-dimensional image and a three-dimensional object. Using heavy and careful impasto to depict the flames enveloping the musical instrument, Magritte made the scene almost three-dimensional. It appears as a real object, rather than simply a painted representation of one. Additionally, Magritte’s inclusion of this pictorial type was extremely prescient. A month after the Palais des Beaux-Arts exhibition in Brussels opened, the show, Exposition surréaliste dobjets, dedicated to Surrealist objects organised by Breton, opened in Paris.

Magritte’s continuous quest for pictorial ‘solutions’ to various ‘problems’ enabled him to constantly challenge and reconfigure the most ubiquitous and commonplace elements of everyday life. Since 1932, when, awaking from sleep he mistakenly glimpsed an egg instead of a bird in a bird cage, Magritte had sought to reveal the undiscovered yet indissoluble connections – ‘elective affinities’ – between hitherto seemingly unrelated objects. ‘I became certain that the element to be discovered, the unique feature residing obscurely in each object, was always known to me in advance, but that my knowledge of it was, so to speak, hidden in the depths of my thought… my investigation took the form of trying to find the solution of a problem with three points of reference: the object, the something linked to it in the obscurity of my consciousness and the light into which this something had to be brought’ (‘La Ligne de vie,’ 1938, in G. Ollinger-Zinque and F. Leen, eds., René Magritte 1898-1967, exh. cat., Brussels, 1998, p. 47).

To achieve this, the artist explored affinities between objects: thus the ‘problem’ of the bird was solved by depicting an egg in a cage; the ‘problem’ of the door with a shapeless hole cut through it; the tree, with a leaf-tree. The ‘problem’ of fire was therefore answered, as Magritte visualised in La découverte du feu, by showing an inanimate, supposedly incombustible metal object incongruously set ablaze and miraculously unscathed by the flames. In combining the banal with the extraordinary, Magritte created a vision at once conceivable and yet impossible. In addition to this, the presence of fire – a primal, natural force of destruction, the image of which indicates danger, while at the same time also symbolizing creation and renewal – adds a further layer of meaning to this composition, arousing powerful human instincts in the viewer. As Suzi Gablik has written, ‘Fire in Magritte's work is always an element of transcendence, the transition between the inanimate and the animate, one of the cosmic mysteries. The tuba seen out of its normal context has a disquieting presence; on fire it is even more disturbing, because of the deviation from its normal behaviour’ (Magritte, London, 1971, p. 93).

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