‘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, Brussels, 1965, p. 116).
In René Magritte’s Le chant d’amour, executed circa 1962, three enlarged apples, painted in bold primary shades of blue, red and yellow appear in a pyramidal form on a sandy beach under an atmospheric, darkening sky. In placing one of the most ubiquitous fruits, apples, on an enormous scale within a seascape, Magritte has created an unexpected juxtaposition, rendering the ordinary extraordinary. Executed with delicately textured brushwork, Le chant d’amour demonstrates Magritte’s distinctive precise and illusionistic style.
At the time that Magritte executed Le chant d’amour, he also painted a composition in oil of the same name (Sylvester no. 959). The present gouache and the oil are the only two works within Magritte’s oeuvre that share the title of Giorgio de Chirico’s painting of the same name. Painted in 1914, De Chirico’s Le chant d’amour – 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 and epiphanic effect on Magritte, moving him to tears when he first saw a reproduction of it in 1923. De Chirico’s Metaphysical masterpiece greatly inspired Magritte, presenting him with a new conception of painting; he wrote of the work, ‘This triumphant poetry supplanted the stereotyped effect of traditional painting. 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’ (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester, Magritte, Brussels, 2009, p. 71). The combination of disparate objects was a revelation for Magritte, and from this point onwards, he began to conceive his own Surrealist style. In Magritte’s Le chant d’amour, the unexpected juxtaposition between the apples and the beach demonstrates Magritte’s desire to reveal the mystery of the world, reconfiguring the familiar to ‘show what the mind can say and which was hitherto unknown’ (Magritte, quoted in S. Whitfield, Magritte, exh. cat., London, 1992, p. 22).
The apple is one of the most iconic and recognisable motifs of Magritte’s oeuvre. From around 1950, the apple began to play a dominant role in Magritte’s work, appearing in numerous forms and in a variety of guises: pictured wearing a carnival mask, turned into stone, or inflated and monumentalised such as in the present work. Magritte had played with the scale of the apple in previous works, picturing the enlarged fruit filling an interior space (Sylvester no. 779). The inconsistency of scale between the brightly coloured apples and the seascape heightens the implausibility of the scene, demonstrating Magritte’s imaginative reinterpretation of the familiar that creates a new way of seeing the world.