René Magritte (1898-1967)
Property from a Private Canadian Collection
René Magritte (1898-1967)

Le colloque sentimental

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Le colloque sentimental
signed 'Magritte' (upper right); signed again, dated, titled and numbered 'Magritte 1946 "Le colloque sentimental" (II)' (on the reverse)
gouache on paper
14 x 19 5/8 in. (35.5 x 49.8 cm.)
Painted in 1946
Alex Salkin, New York (acquired from the artist).
Anon. sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 23 October 1980, lot 350.
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels (by 1987).
Davlyn Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1990.
(possibly) Letter from R. Magritte to A. Salkin, 2 January 1947.
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés, 1918-1967, London, 1994, vol. IV, p. 80, no. 1220 (illustrated).
(possibly) New York, Hugo Galleries, René Magritte, April 1947, no. 21.

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Lot Essay

By placing recognizable, everyday objects in surreal combinations, Magritte stripped them of their normal associations, rendering them fantastical and uncanny. Composed of just two cloaked figures with the body of a bilboquet and a head shaped like a mortar set against a serene sky, Le colloque sentimental has a powerful simplicity. By limiting himself to just two objects, Magritte presents the viewer with the strange array of unfathomable relationships that exist between them. For Magritte, this was one of the central aims of his art, as he explained: “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? He will timidly take a few little liberties, venture some vague allusions. In view of my determination to make the most familiar objects scream aloud, these had to be disposed in a new order and to be charged with a vibrant significance: the cracks we see on the fronts of our houses and the seams upon our faces, to me they looked more eloquent in the sky. Turned wooden table-legs lost the innocent existence we ascribe to them if they suddenly appeared towering up in a forest…” (quoted in P. Waldberg, René Magritte, Brussels, 1965, p. 116).
Harry Torczyner has described the figures in the present work as "anthropoid bilboquets" (Magritte: Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, p. 152). The bilboquet is among the frequently encountered stock images in Magritte's oeuvre. The artist took this object from an old game played with the French version of a cup-and-ball toy, which in its basic form is known in many cultures throughout the world. The bilboquet consists of a ball with a hole bored into it, which fits on a spike at the top of a wooden stick shaped to fit the hand. The ball is attached to the handle with a string–the player flings the ball upward, and then tries to catch it on the spike as often as he can within a designated period of time. The term "bilboquet" may also refer to a wooden cylinder which has been turned on a lathe to create a scalloped silhouette with a ball-shaped finial for use in balustrades, as table and chair legs, and for other decorative purposes. The bilboquet first appeared in Magritte's early paintings of the 1920s, and quickly assumed anthropomorphic qualities, becoming a stand-in for a quasi-human presence. The artist would refer to them simply as his "wooden figures," and they constitute his counterpart to the trovatores that de Chirico fabricated in his paintings from mannequin heads, scrap wood and fabric.
A more evolved form of the bilboquet began to appear in Magritte's paintings in 1945. The artist elongated the spherical shape of the ball atop the handle into a bulbously spouted form that resembles the squat shape of a nineteenth century mortar, an artillery piece used for hurling explosive shells in steep trajectories over the walls of fortifications. The content of wartime newsreels may have suggested this allusion–in some pictures where the artist has employed this form, the mouth of the bilboquet actually bursts forth in flames, like a cannon being fired (fig. 1). Now equipped with snouts and mouths, the "anthropoid bilboquets" seem eager to show off their newly acquired gift of speech, and they usually appear, as seen here, in a formal and declamatory stance, bringing to mind the noble oratory for which Cicero was celebrated. Yet we imagine them as blind and silent beings, wooden objects incapable of thinking or communicating in depth, which renders Magritte’s choice of title, “A Sentimental Conversation,” fitting, particularly given their grandiose, caped pose. In describing the same title which was given to a painting of the same year, Magritte explained, “In front of an oblique window two wooden objects which have lost their banal meaning, are speaking of love and happiness” (D. Sylvester, René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés, London, 1994, vol. 1, p. 379). Often standing for a human presence, these bilboquets became one of the most distinctive and prevalent motifs of Magritte’s art, appearing in various guises throughout the entirety of his career.
Magritte created a world for which he was uniquely qualified to serve as guide, an unfamiliar place for many, where objects are at first appearance recognizable and unmistakable, very real and even rather ordinary, yet taken together in the context in which the artist has assembled them, they suggest an alternate, unforeseen and mysterious reality. "I do not juxtapose strange elements to shock," Magritte commented to a magazine reporter. "I describe my thoughts of mystery, which is the union of everything and anything we know" (quoted in "The Square Surrealist," Newsweek, 5 January 1966, p. 58). While Magritte would lead his viewers to the revelation of the mysterious in commonplace things, he left them at that point to their own devices, consistently refusing to offer explanations of his paintings.

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