René Magritte - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 17, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    IngaBritt and Arne Lundberg, Gothenburg, Sweden (acquired circa 1965)
    Their sale, Stockholms Auktionsverk, Stockholm, November 15, 2016, lot 15
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    In this outstanding gouache masterpiece by René Magritte, two fruit—a pear and an apple made entirely of stone—sit upon a desolate beach, the sea lapping gently in the background. The cracks and crinkles in the surface, so painstakingly depicted by Magritte, lend them a sense of monumentality, as does the composition, which they dominate entirely, squeezing out the sky, the sand and the sea. This monumentality is further enhanced by the scale of the work, rare in Magritte’s oeuvre, and key to its conveyance of its dramatic presence. La grande table, 1962, plunges the viewer into the Belgian Surrealist’s idiosyncratic universe. These fruit appear vast, yet somehow anthropomorphic. They are not impossible; after all, a sculptor could create such monoliths from stone. Yet they remain provocatively improbable and mysterious. The lovingly-rendered La grande table was formerly owned by the philanthropists IngaBritt and Arne Lundberg. Their formidable collection featured works by a number of prominent artists from the 20th century including Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky and Fernand Léger. Arne Lundberg was a figurehead in pharmaceutics, and the couple’s Foundation that bears his and his wife’s name continues to fund important medical research.

    As was often the case with Magritte’s gouaches, La grande table is a variation upon a theme that he explored in a number of different incarnations. The fruit recall Magritte’s earlier works: in 1950, over a decade earlier, Magritte had introduced both the image of two masked apples sitting together and the theme of petrification into his pictures. The present work is the descendant of both motifs. Another work entitled Souvenir de voyage, 1955, Museum of Modern Art, New York, shows a petrified man and lion in an interior rendered with the same technique. Sitting upon the stone table in that picture is a bowl of apples, a prelude to the present gouache. In 1962, these considerations culminated with works such as the present one. As Magritte’s friend Margaret Krebs noted with regard to the oil painting Souvenir de voyage from the same year, which showed similar fruit against a cloudier sky, that composition had been inspired by Magritte seeing two people sitting on a beach. Certainly there is an anthropomorphic quality to the apple and the pear, perched on the sand.

    David Sylvester suggested that Magritte used this petrification technique in part as a pretext for creating images in grisaille. While that was clearly the case in the Museum of Modern Art’s Souvenir de voyage from 1955, it is less the case in the present work, where the stone fruit clearly contrast with the seascape in the background. Indeed, in this picture, their being made of stone adds to the incongruity of the image—they are pointedly inedible. This is a disruption of the still life genre so famed in Dutch still life painting, where fruit and flowers become the sensuous witnesses of the passing of time and the approach of death. Magritte has taken the fruit and turned them into monuments in their own right. There is no mouth-watering sense of taste, no indication of softness; instead, there is an imposing solidity. As well as playing with the tradition of the memento mori in still life painting, Magritte is using his highly figurative, almost deadpan figurative style in order to throw many of our preconceptions about art into question, subverting the iconography of portraiture and landscape alike.

    The inherent Surrealism so eloquently, yet concisely, at work in La grande table had seen Magritte become one of the most iconic artists of the age by the time he created this gouache. There is a sense of surprise that underpins Magritte’s unique Surrealist vernacular, one which resulted in mysterious electoral affinities that continues to exert such fascination with his work. Magritte’s belief that “the function of painting is to make poetry visible” is beautifully achieved with the present work (René Magritte, quoted in Suzi Gablik, Magritte, New York, 1973, p. 147). Formally related to works from this period that were entitled Souvenir de voyage, the potent poetry of the image is heightened by its allusion to J.A. Gobineau’s novel Souvenir de voyage from 1872. One of the stories in that book involved a romantic account of a journey made to see the new volcano that had appeared in the Greek islands, by Santorini. In its own surreal way, La grande table echoes the inherent mystery invoked by that seismic shift in the landscape.


La grande table

signed "Magritte" lower left
gouache on paper
14 1/8 x 21 5/8 in. (36 x 55 cm.)
Executed in 1962, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the René Magritte Foundation.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,295,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2018