René Magritte's exquisite gouache Le paysage de Baucis was created in 1966 and was donated by the artist the following year to an auction to raise funds for the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which had been co-founded in 1947 by his great friend and fellow Belgian Surrealist E.L.T. Mesens and which was moving to its new premises on Carlton House Terrace, where it resides to this day.
Le paysage de Baucis was a gouache reprisal of a new motif that Magritte had created in 1966 in an oil of the same title. In that work, he had found a solution to a problem that had been troubling him for some time - Magritte's pictures were often answers to similar quandaries posed, as it were, by the world around him. Initially, Magritte had hoped to find a way of representing the space between a woman's hat and her dress; in part, he had chosen a woman because he was conscious of the image of a man with a space between hat and suit, the figure of The Invisible Man invented in the novel of Ralph Ellison and immortalised in various media ever since. However, in 1966 Magritte wrote to a friend explaining that. 'I have discovered how to paint the emptiness between a hat and a man's suit without suggesting "the invisible man"' (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, Vol.III, London, 1993, p. 423). His solution was the inclusion of the floating facial features, the eyes, nose and mouth, which articulate and indeed dramatically highlight the 'emptiness.' Magritte's own enthusiasm for this solution was clear from another letter: 'The picture of the emptiness between a hat and a man's suit is finished: this was certainly one worth painting. I had thought of a title: "The horror of the void", but discarded it as being too "direct" in favour of a better, I think: "Baucis's landscape"' (Magritte, quoted in ibid., p. 423).
The title, which the catalogue raisonné explains may have been suggested by François and Evelyn Deknop, avoids any notion of the 'Invisible Man.' Instead, it invokes the figure of Baucis, the mythical figure from Ovid's Metamorphoses who, with his wife Philemon, was alone in providing shelter to the gods Zeus and Hermes when they were travelling in disguise. The gods, in retribution against those who had spurned them from their doors, destroyed the entire place, saving only Baucis and Philemon and allowing them to witness the cataclysm, from which a temple emerged. The notions of disguise, of seeing further and of the destruction of the landscape all appear to chime with the mystical, partial apparition of Le paysage de Baucis.