The Fondation René Magritte has confirmed the authenticity of this gouache.
La belle captive reflects Magritte's prolonged fascination with the nature of painting as a record of reality. The accuracy of his highly finished technique bolsters the conundrum of a painting really representing the world. Within the universe of La belle captive, a painting has been made which perfectly achieves that result, perennially capturing the tranquil sea behind it. In the same way, Magritte's art was intended to be a timeless portal to the reality of the world depicting, as within La belle captive, not a mere instance, but a lasting truth. This painting is a manifesto, a pictorial explanation, of the nature of art.
The easel in La belle captive supports a frame through which a tranquil sea can be seen. The pastel hues create an atmosphere of warmth and intimacy in this seascape. However, it is only on seeing the thin white line of the canvas's tacking edge that one perceives the Surrealist nature of this work. Like most of Magritte's paintings within a painting, the canvas holds a picture which perfectly represents the scene surrounding it. In La belle captive, the point where the land meets the sky and where the sky meets the earth is one of mystic significance and one that has particular resonance in the human mind. The vast horizon line made by the meeting of land and sea and sea and sky lends itself to and indeed provokes a contemplation of the sublime.
The simple composition of La belle captive lends itself well to Magritte's exploration of the paradox of painting the world. The central painting appears as if it were a door within a door, a perfect miniature echo of the painting itself. The sphere to the left of the easel is a perfect foil to the fluid sea and translucent canvas, as it is unmoving and static, a solid object. This contrast between static and moving elements highlights the ambiguity of the moving/unmoving Surreal painting on the beach. La belle captive is a contemplative disruption and investigation into the nature of time, art and indeed the reality so muffled by "daily experience."
The door and the window are often used as metaphors for a picture in Magritte's work; they mark the intersection between one reality and another, in much the same way that a painting does. By 1946, when La belle captive was painted, Magritte had refined the aims of his art into the search for the hidden poetry of objects and for what he called their "elective affinities." For Magritte this was a hidden association between two objects that when revealed pictorially achieved strange and surprising results; results that also made an uncanny and recognizable sense in much the same way as the poetic association of seemingly unconnected words can make sense. La belle captive develops this more bizarre and visually awkward opening in a more logical and straightforward way by depicting a canvas and easel set against the sea in such a way that the painting of the sea becomes one with the sea itself. As Magritte knew, the poetic mystery of a work intensifies when the distortions from what one judges as "normal" are set at a minimum.