René Magritte (1898-1967)
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Property from a Distinguished New York Collector
René Magritte (1898-1967)

L'amour de la nature

René Magritte (1898-1967)
L'amour de la nature
signed 'Magritte' (lower left); signed again, dated and titled 'Magritte 1961 "L'amour de la nature"' (on the reverse)
gouache, watercolor, sheet music collage, charcoal and pencil on paper
17 ¾ x 14 ¼ in. (43.7 x 36.3 cm.)
Executed in 1961
Alexandre Iolas Gallery, New York.
Dominique and John de Menil, Houston (acquired from the above).
Louise Ferrari, Houston (gift from the above, by 1964).
Grant Selwyn Fine Art, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, February 2000.
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés, 1918-1967, London, 1994, vol. IV, p. 313, no. 1640 (illustrated).
New York, Alexandre Iolas Gallery, René Magritte: Paintings, Gouaches and Collages, 1960-1961-1962, April-May 1962, no. 22.
Houston, University of St. Thomas, Fine Arts Gallery and Little Rock, Arkansas Art Center, Out of this World, March-June 1964, no. 68 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

There is a familiar feeling of mystery, experienced in relation to things that are customarily labelled “mysterious,” but the supreme feeling is the “unfamiliar” feeling of mystery, experienced in relation to things that it is customary to “consider natural,” familiar (our own thoughts among other things). We must reconsider the idea that a “marvelous” world manifests itself in the “usual” world whenever we are struck by coincidences. It is in fact the “usual” world which asserts itself by means of coincidences: they make sure we recognize it more distinctly. Instead of being astonished by the superfluous existence of another world, it is our own world, where coincidences surprise us, that we must not lose sight of.
-Réne Magritte

L'amour de la nature dates to a period when Magritte turned once more to the collage format that he had used to great effect in his early works. It was in part through the collages of Max Ernst that Magritte had begun to understand the magical and mysterious juxtapositions that were to become the foundation of his entire Surreal aesthetic (fig. 1). As he recalled of the revelation that the German artist's example had provided, in words that are as pertinent to the present work as they were to his early collages: “Max Ernst superbly demonstrated, through the shattering effect of collages made from old magazine illustrations, that one could easily dispense with everything that had given traditional painting its prestige. Scissors, paste, images, and some genius effectively replaced the brushes, colors, model, style, sensibility and the divine afflatus of artists” (quoted in H. Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, p. 214).
In the present work, a central bilboquet is fashioned from cut sheet music, which featured heavily in many of the artist’s collages. Magritte’s brother Paul was a recognized musician and poet, well-loved and well-respected among the circle of Magritte's closest Belgian Surrealist friends and colleagues, and the inclusion of music in his painter brother's collages in the 1920s appears in part to be a tribute to him. Here the musical bilboquet, which resembles a chess piece, towers over three leaf-trees under a sliver of moon. Magritte's use of an enlarged leaf to represent a tree, the substitution of a part for the whole, underscores his exploration of provocative encounters between objects that are based on an inherent association with each other. The leaf-shaped tree also suggests a circulatory system as it branches through a human lung, lending the image a human aspect, which further contrasts with the flat, hard, inanimate perfection of the bilboquet. The branching lines describe the nature of the quest; they are a series of paths to be chosen and taken, much like the paths presented in the overall composition of the work, while none actually lead to the absolute. An image of duality and contradiction, the disruptive use of sheet music collage for the bilboquet, representing art and artifice, juxtaposed with the meticulously painted leaf-trees, representing nature, creates two opposing forces with an inherent tension. This persistent tension between nature and artifice, truth and fiction, reality and surreality is one of the profound achievements of Magritte’s art.
L'amour de la nature was formerly owned by John and Dominique de Menil, who, under the guidance of the dealer Alexandre Iolas, assembled an extensive collection of works by Magritte. The de Menils were also pivotal in bringing the artist’s work to the American public. The present work was included in an exhibition organized in 1964 by Dominique de Menil and commissioned by Winthrop Rockefeller as a collaborative project between the University of St. Thomas and the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock. Presenting over 100 paintings and gouaches, it was the largest exhibition of Magritte’s work in the United States to date, covering the full spectrum of the artist’s career. The following year, during his first and only trip to the United States, Magritte stopped in Houston after attending the opening of his retrospective exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. He was honored with a reception at the Arts Association of the University of St. Thomas, hosted by the de Menils. Denizens of Houston society, newly interested in Magritte’s work thanks to the success of de Menil’s exhibition, turned out for the reception in droves. Magritte explained the reason for his visit: “St. Thomas the Apostle had to see in order to believe. I conclude that the people at St. Thomas University want to see me to be sure I am not a myth” (“Surrealism Goes to Texas,” University of St. Thomas press release, 15 December 1965 in S. Barron and M. Draguey, Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, Ghent, 2006, p. 91).

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