Create your first list.

A way to share and manage lots.

  • Commissioned for the June 1965 cover of the prestigious modern art publication XXe Siècle, Untitled (Woman’s Face Covered by a Rose) is exemplary of René Magritte’s iconic dreamlike lexicon which deconstructed and decontextualized the everyday objects of modern existence. This evocative gouache depicts the bust of a single female figure whose face is obfuscated by one of the artist’s favorite pictorial motifs, a rose. Reminiscent of the artist’s The Son of Man from 1964, it employs Magritte’s signature visual device of an object concealing what is immediately behind it, as in The Human Condition, 1933, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Reflective of the dislocated and distorted realities of Giorgio de Chirico—whose work had a profound effect on Magritte’s aesthetic language—Untitled and the Surrealist’s other images forever altered art history through its ruthless interrogation of the very act of representation.
     

    [left] René Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964. Private Collection, Photo credit: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] René Magritte photographed in Belgium, 1967. 
    [left] René Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964. Private Collection, Photo credit: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] René Magritte photographed in Belgium, 1967. 

    "I have a very limited vocabulary: nothing but ordinary, familiar things. What is 'extraordinary' is the connection between them." 
    — René Magritte

    From Surrealism to Cinema

     

    [left] Giorgio de Chirico, Metaphysical Muses, 1918. Cameraphoto Arte, Venice / Art Resource, NY [right] Paul Nougé, Cils Coupés, 1929.
    [left] Giorgio de Chirico, Metaphysical Muses, 1918. Cameraphoto Arte, Venice / Art Resource, NY [right] Paul Nougé, Cils Coupés, 1929.

    Magritte executed Untitled in 1965 for the cover of the groundbreaking French periodical XXe Siècle upon the request of its founder, art historian Gualtieri di San Lazzaro. Published sporadically between 1938 and 1973, its roughly 60 issues included articles about, as well as original lithographs by, the most significant artists of the 20th century, including Joan Miró, Max Ernst, and Marc Chagall. Magritte had produced a lithograph, Les bijoux indiscrets, 1963, two years earlier for XXe Siècle and after seeing the artist’s Paris exhibition in December 1964, San Lazzaro offered him a second commission for the periodical.

     

    We can assume San Lazzaro at first had asked for a work related to the “imaginary,” as Magritte initially rejected the offer, responding to his letter that “I attach no real value to the imaginary.”i  After San Lazzaro sent the artist a second letter, Magritte agreed to make the gouache—so long as it could follow the theme of the “imagination” as opposed to the “imaginary.”

       

    Gualtieri di San Lazzaro 
    Gualtieri di San Lazzaro 

     “Everything would be right in your project if instead of the word Imaginary, the word Poetry were being used. According to my conviction, poetry certainly depends upon the real—it is not ‘imaginary.’ Only so-called poetry is of indifferent value like ‘the imaginary.” Magritte continued, “It is the imagination which—together with the wit—is the source of things of beauty, as they are called, which delight us. True imagination is not responsible for whatever idiocies may be included in art. There should, then, be no confusion between Imagination and the Imaginary.”ii

     

    By January 14, Magritte had told to his friend André Bosmans that he was unsure which image to use for the commission, but on January 19 he had elected to use the one that his friend expressed preference for, writing that “this image will go ‘well’ with an apologia for the imaginary. (It is no more imaginary than a ‘realistic’ scene, but I believe it to be very poetic.)”iii He send the work to San Lazzaro a day later and it appeared on the cover of the June issue. 

     

    Film poster for Il Boom, 1964.
    Film poster for Il Boom, 1964.

    San Lazzaro sold Untitled to renowned director Vittorio de Sica, one of the most prominent figures in Italy’s neorealist movement and whose films Sciuscià and Bicycle Thieves are today regarded as some of the most important contributions to 20th century European cinema. Interestingly, during the time around the creation of Untitled, Surrealism was very much in vogue in the cinematic world; in fact, de Sica was directing films with absurdist and Surrealist plot lines well in the 1960s—notably Il Boom, 1964—which are considered to have presaged the work of David Lynch. Untitled thus embodies two histories tracing both the importance of XXe Siècle and Surrealism as an art historical movement as well as the resurgence of international interest in Surrealist film in the 1960s.

     

    A Rose by Any Other Name

     

    The rose was one of Magritte’s most iconic pictorial tropes, reappearing throughout his oeuvre and especially during his mature period, such as in Pandora’s Box, 1951, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; The Blow to the Heart, 1952; and The Tomb of the Wrestlers, 1960. In 1951, Magritte wrote to dealer Alexander Iolas: “My present research, at the beginning of the winter, is concerned with the rose. I must find something precious and worthy to say about it.”iv

     

    A month later, he wrote to his friend, Surrealist poet Paul Éluard, elucidating that “for about two months I have been looking for a solution to what I call ‘the problem of the rose.’ My research now having been completed, I realize that I had probably known the answer to my question for a long time, but in an obscure fashion, and not only I myself but any other man likewise. This kind of knowledge, which seems to be organic and doesn't rise to the level of consciousness, was always present, at the beginning of every effort of research I made.”

    "My present research, at the beginning of the winter, is concerned with the rose. I must find something precious and worthy to say about it." 
    — René Magritte

    [left] René Magritte, Pandora’s Box, 1951. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Photo credit HIP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [center] René Magritte, The Blow to the Heart, 1952. Photo credit: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] René Magritte, The Tomb of the Wrestlers, 1960. Private Collection, New York, Photo credit: Herscovici / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [left] René Magritte, Pandora’s Box, 1951. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Photo credit HIP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [center] René Magritte, The Blow to the Heart, 1952. Photo credit: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] René Magritte, The Tomb of the Wrestlers, 1960. Private Collection, New York, Photo credit: Herscovici / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Magritte continued, “After completion of the research, it can be ‘easily’ explained that the rose is scented air, but it is also cruel, and reminds me of your ‘parricidal rose,’” in reference to Éluard’s poem Blason des fleurs et des fruits. “I also recall a passage from Nougé's forbidden images: ‘It is because of searing memory that we become aware of this faint scent of roses...’”v Magritte’s myriad associations with the rose only lend Untitled even more ambiguity; its indecipherable message continues to mysteify viewers today just as it did the readers of XXe Siècle in the 1960s.

     

    i, ii, iii René Magritte, quoted in David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, IV: Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés 1918-1967, London, 1994, p. 279-280.

    iv, v René Magritte, quoted in David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, III: Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1949-1967, London, 1993, p. 196-197.

    • Provenance

      Gualtieri di San Lazzaro (commissioned from the artist)
      Vittorio de Sica (acquired from the above)
      Galleria la Medusa, Rome
      Private Collection
      Private Collection, Rome (acquired from the above in 1979)
      Galleria dell'Oca, Rome
      Private Collection, Rome
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      La Coruña, Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza, Surrealismo: Max Ernst y sus amigos surrealistas, June 10 - September 12, 2004, p. 129 (illustrated, p. 94)

    • Literature

      XXe Siècle Aux sources de l’Imaginaire, no. 25, Paris, June 1965 (illustrated on the cover)
      René Magritte, Imagination et imaginaire: dodici lettere a Gualtieri Di San Lazzaro e un disegno di Magritte, Milan, 1969, n.p.
      René Magritte, Lettres à André Bosmans: 1958-1967, Paris, 1990, pp. 409-410
      David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, IV: Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés 1918-1967, London, 1994, no. 1575, p. 280 (illustrated, p. 279)

Property from an Important American Collection

Ο ◆18

Untitled (Woman's Face covered by a Rose)

signed "Magritte" upper left
gouache on paper
12 1/2 x 9 7/8 in. (31.8 x 25.1 cm)
Executed in January 1965, this work was commissioned for the June 1965 issue of XXe Siècle Aux sources de l’Imaginaire.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $2,329,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

[email protected] 


 

20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020