Dating from circa 1964, Ceci n'est pas une pomme is a large painting which unites two of René Magritte's most famous iconographical elements, the apple and the 'Ceci n'est pas' concept. This picture was created by Magritte for his sister-in-law, Léontine Hoyez-Berger to install in her shop in the rue du Marché au Charbon. Since its creation, Ceci n'est pas une pomme has featured in a number of important publications and exhibitions of Magritte's work.
It was in 1928-29 that Magritte famously wrote 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe' under a picture of a pipe and entitled the work La trahison des images. That picture, now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has since then become one of the most iconic works in the world. The paradoxical yet clearly true statement at its core, that a representation of an object is not the equal of the object itself, is something that has reverberated through both artistic and other intellectual developments over the succeeding decades. With the incredible, bold simplicity of that statement, Magritte had managed to puncture entirely the suspension of disbelief that was involved in looking at a picture, challenging the entire notion of representation. While the link on a large scale between an image and a slogan may recall the advertising in which Magritte himself had sometimes worked, it is more in the emphasis given to its message that the influence of that profession shows. To this day, the picture reverberates through the public consciousness, and has launched a range of references and reflections. Indeed, in 1971, Michel Foucault even published a book which took that picture as its springboard, giving it the title Ceci n'est pas une pipe. Meanwhile, LACMA would themselves host an exhibition in 2006 called Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, showing the impact that his revelations continue to have on artists even today. Typically, 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). In Ceci n'est pas une pomme, Magritte has combined that 'Ceci n'est pas...' concept with another motif which had increased in its frequency in his pictures and has thus also become intrinsically linked with the artist himself: the apple.
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 Le fils de l'homme, one of only five paintings which the artist himself considered to be self-portraits, his face is hidden behind a floating apple. Magritte was one of the rarest elements in his own paintings, and for him to have painted himself with an apple emphasizes its importance.
Magritte reproduced his 'not-pipe' many times in many permutations, but his use of this 'not-apple' is extremely rare. He painted a gouache showing the apple and the same sentence in 1958; this work, which now belongs to the Triton Foundation, may be seen as the inception of the present painting. Around the same time, Magritte produced a small oil version called La force de l'habitude in which, underneath the depiction of the apple, he emblazoned the statement in English: 'This Is Not an Apple'. That picture was acquired from Alexandre Iolas by another great Surrealist painter, Max Ernst, in exchange for one of his own works. Ernst later made an addition to the composition by painting one of his own trademark birds. Showing the bird caged within the apple, Ernst wrote underneath 'Ceci n'est pas un Magritte', an addition which apparently prompted a laugh from the Belgian when he saw it (see D. Tanning, Between Lives: An Artist and Her World, New York, 2001, p. 256). The third and final version of this motif 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.
According to the catalogue raisonné of Magritte's work, he had been asked by his sister-in-law for a Cubist picture to decorate her shop, but instead received this work. This 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 hexagonal shape, with the diagonal edges on the top two corners, 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.