‘In my paintings, I showed objects situated in places where they are never actually encountered. That is to satisfy what is in most people a real if not conscious desire. Does not the ordinary painter try, within the limits set for him, to upset the order according to which he customarily sees objects arranged?’
(Magritte, quoted in P. Waldberg, René Magritte, trans. A. Wainhouse, Brussels, 1965, p. 116)
As with the bowler hatted man, the motif of the apple has become synonymous with René Magritte and his art. From around 1950, Magritte integrated this quotidian fruit into a range of bizarre situations. In some compositions it is turned to stone, in others, anthropomorphised with a carnival mask, or exaggeratedly inflated, each guise playfully undermining and subverting the expected appearance of this object. In Les jeunes amours of 1963, Magritte has not only enlarged the volumetric form of the apples and turned them into an impossible palette of yellow, red, and blue, but has presented these pieces of fruit floating amidst an expansive beach scene. As such, the composition blurs the boundaries of perception and reality, forcing us to question what we see and what we think we see in our everyday world, opening a world of hitherto unimagined possibility.
For Magritte, the apple came to symbolize this perpetual tension between the hidden and the visible. ‘Those of my pictures that show very familiar objects, an apple, for example, pose questions,’ Magritte explained. ‘We no longer understand when we look at an apple; its mysterious quality has thus been evoked. In a recent painting, I have shown an apple in front of a person's face. At least it partially hides the face. Well then, here we have the apparent visible, the apple, hiding the hidden visible, the person's face. This process occurs endlessly. Each thing we see hides another, we always want to see what is being hidden by what we see. There is an interest in what is hidden and what the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a fairly intense feeling, a kind of contest, I could say, between the hidden visible and apparent visible’ (quoted in H. Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, trans. R. Miller, New York, 1977, p. 170).
Magritte explored the pictorial possibility of this playful pyramidal formation of apples in a small number of related works in the early 1960s. Titled Le chant d’amour (Sylvester, no. 959), and likely painted the year before the present work in 1962, this oil demonstrates one of the possible sources of inspiration for Magritte in his adoption of this fruit amid an incongruous setting: Giorgio de Chirico’s work of the same name, painted in 1914 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). De Chirico’s metaphysical masterpiece, in which a number of disparate objects, including a plastic glove and the head of classical statue, are arranged across the canvas, had a deeply profound, epiphanic effect on Magritte, supposedly moving him to tears when he first saw a reproduction of it in 1923. ‘This triumphant poetry [of Le chant d’amour] supplanted the stereotyped effect of traditional painting,’ he recalled. ‘It represented a complete break with the mental habits peculiar to artists who are prisoners of virtuosity and all the little aesthetic specialties. It was a new vision through which the spectator might recognise his own isolation and hear the silence of the world’ (quoted in D. Sylvester, Magritte, Brussels, 2009, p. 71). With its juxtaposition of recognisable and yet unexpectedly grouped objects, Le chant d’amour offered Magritte a new way of attaining the surreal through the banal, a method he would pursue for the rest of his career. Just as Paul Cézanne declared ‘With an apple I will astonish Paris,’ so Magritte continued almost a decade later to defy his viewers’ expectations with his own depictions of this object, as Les jeunes amours brilliantly shows.
Magritte was clearly happy with the motif of apples on the beach in Le chant d’amour, subsequently painting the present work, in which the same trio are shown more spaced apart, a year later. ‘I have repainted some old pictures with pleasure [...] particularly the one with the three apples,’ he wrote to André Bosmans on 5 August 1963, adding that he was still pleased with the title, Les jeunes amours (quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. III, Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1949-1967, Antwerp, 1993, p. 376).
It is not only the transformation of colour and size that turns the protagonists of Les jeunes amours from ordinary to extraordinary, but the way in which the top apple is levitating above the golden sand to become absorbed by the endless blue sky was another means through which Magritte subverted the everyday. In a number of his compositions, Magritte’s objects break the chains of gravity to rise impossibly skywards, an effect that is masterfully demonstrated in his Le château des Pyrénées, in which a rock with a castle perched on top hovers weightlessly above a seascape. In the same way, Magritte used petrification, or metamorphosing objects, so the act of an object levitating was another tool in the artist’s repertoire in which he forced the viewer to question the perceived, inherited, or conventional visual rules that govern our everyday perception of the world. ‘My paintings show objects deprived of the sense they usually have,’ Magritte once explained. ‘They are shown in unusual contexts… Ordinary objects fascinate me. A door is a familiar object but at the same time it is a bizarre object, full of mystery… I suppose you can call me a surrealist. The word is all right. You have to use one word or another. But one should really say realism, although that usually refers to daily life in the street. It should be that realism means the real with the mystery that is in the real’ (quoted in ‘The Enigmatic Visions of René Magritte,’ Life, 22 April 1966, pp. 113-119).