René Magritte - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "To my surprise, I found myself fascinated with the paintings and even more fascinated with the little man who saw through strange eyes. I thought I knew how Alice must have felt in Wonderland."
    —Marguerite Cullman
    René Magritte’s charming oil, Le coup de grâce was acquired by Marguerite Cullman directly from the artist’s living room in Brussels. Having relocated to Belgium with her husband, Howard, during his tenure as the United States Commissioner for the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, Marguerite enjoyed a stylish and dazzling life abroad. Her letters and diaries from this period are candidly recounted in her memoir, Ninety Dozen Glasses, published in 1960. Described as “tart, sensitive and sophisticated” by the New York Times, Marguerite recalls with great candor, the people she met and “what she saw, heard and tasted” during her time in Belgium.i 
     
    In a chapter entitled “Art—Who Knows What He Likes”, she shares her first visit to Magritte’s home. “Mr. Magritte looked at home in his surroundings. He was short, middle-aged…he was tightly buttoned into a dark, narrow business suit. It would have been easy to picture him behind a high clerical desk”, she remembers, “Because I had always imagined that a surrealist painter would fit the stereotype of the wild, mad bohemian, I could not reconcile this bland little man with the picture in my mind.”ii
     
    During their afternoon together, they enjoyed stilted but friendly conversations despite not sharing a common language. With clumsy French, Marguerite asked where he paints, “[Magritte] pointed to the unmarred easel and said he worked there. I asked him if he didn’t get paint on the carpet. He looked puzzled: no, the paint he applied to the canvas. And he never just slapped any of it around? More confusion: no, for he had thought out in advance what he would do with it.”iii

     

    [left] Howard Cullman receiving the Cross of Leopold, with Marguerite Cullman second on the right at the Consulate General in Belgium, 1959
    [right] Cover design for Marguerite Cullman’s memoir, Ninety Dozen Glasses, published in 1960 by Norton & Co., New York

    Regardless of any awkwardness, the artist showed her the small paintings that adorned his walls as well as some canvases tucked away from sight—“He handed me a painting of a happy-looking country house bathed in the warm glow of a sunset and apparently viewed from the cool darkness of a womblike grotto”.iv Two days later, she returned to the artist’s home and after careful consideration chose this house: “Mr. Magritte was warm and friendly; he approved of my choice, indicating that he personally thought it contained more good painting.”v  
    "Despite my awkward fumbling in French, we were able to communicate. Perhaps if one is discussing the subject closest to a man’s heart, one can always manage a conversation."
    —Marguerite Cullman

    From 1943-1947, Magritte began experimenting with Impressionism, in the style of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as a response to the German Occupation of Belgium. Standing as a defiant attempt to counter the horrors, tragedy, and chaos of the era, these pictures were intended as celebrations of happiness. By 1946, André Breton had had enough of these impressionistic pictures, and Magritte decided to break with his Surrealist movement. Writing to Breton, Magritte declared: “This sense of chaos, of panic, which Surrealism hoped to foster so that everything might be called into question was achieved much more successfully by those idiots the Nazis, and then there was no getting away from it…Against widespread pessimism, I now propose a search for joy and pleasure.”vi
     "The experiences of war have taught me that what matters in art is to express charm."
    —René Magritte

    LEFT 174286_FIG 4, RIGHT 174286_FIG 5_FPO: [left] René Magritte, La condition humaine, 1935. Norfolk Museums Service. Image: © Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] René Magritte, L'incendie, 1943. Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium. Artwork: © 2022 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [left] René Magritte, La condition humaine, 1935, Norfolk Museums Service. Image: © Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [right] René Magritte, L'incendie, 1943, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium. Artwork: © 2022 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    With his Renoiresque techniques, Magritte entered into his period of Sunlit Surrealism and his creative output was less mysterious and poetic compared to his works of the preceding two decades and viewed instead as pastiches of Impressionism. While the importance of this period is now acknowledged, at the time many were critical. In a letter to the artist, his dismayed dealer Alexander Iolas wrote saying “not to break with the mysterious, poetic quality of your former pictures, which by their compact technique were much more Magritte than those in which the Renoiresque technique and colouring struck everyone as outmoded. Outmoded is really not the work I should use…I should say rather ‘less Magritte-like’.vii
     
    While previously only known to David Sylvester through a proof for a proposed book on Magritte by Serge Vandercam from 1950 entitled Le Garde-Fou, Le coup de grâce was accompanied by poetic lines written by Paul Colinet: “I turned in my own direction, I preserved my black depths and the light followed me.”viii Created on the cusp of Magritte’s transition from the époque Renoir to Vache, the present work Le coup de grâce combines classic elements of his earlier works—the placing of objects in places they do not belong—but also introduces the preference for hypertrophy that the artist would develop in later decades. Framed by the entrance to a cave—a natural shelter—the juxtaposition of the house within contradicts Magritte’s belief that “the essential raison d’être of a house is to be a more comfortable dwelling than natural shelters.”ix 

    "Le Coup de Grâce. The house managed to get into the cave, we don’t know how, imagination gives the finishing touch. The house, looking into the darkness of the cave, plunges into the night of the unconscious, and our usual habit of looking outwards is given the coup de grâce."
    —René Magritte

    With its subtle Impressionist landscape and the doll’s house center stage, Le coup de grâce allows the viewer’s imagination to unfold—how did the house come to arrive in the cave? The theatrical staging of Le coup de grâce likely appealed to Marguerite and Howard, who as long-time theater investors helped to bring a number of iconic plays, from Oklahoma! and South Pacific to Fiddler on the Roof and Annie Get Your Gun, and from Carousel to A Streetcar Named Desire, to New York City’s Broadway. It also stands as a precursor to Magritte’s disquieting L’empire des lumières series, which are amongst the most iconic images of 20th century art. 

     

    [left] The present work [right] René Magritte, L'empire des lumieres, 1954. Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium. Image: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [left] Detail of the present work.
    [right] René Magritte, L'empire des lumieres, 1954, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium. Image: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    i Emily Kimbrough, “An Embassy Was Home; NINETY DOZEN GLASSES. By Marguerite Cullman. 273 pp. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. $3.95,” The New York Times, April 3, 1960, online
    ii Marguerite Cullman, Ninety Dozen Glasses, New York, 1960, p. 209.
    iii Ibid.
    iv Ibid.
    v Ibid.
    vi Richard Calcocoressi, Magritte, Oxford, 1990, p. 24.
    vii Letter from Alexander Iolas to René Magritte, dated November 12, 1948 in David Sylvester, ed., René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, II: Oil Paintings and Objects 1931-1948, London, 1993, p. 154-155.
    viii David Sylvester, ed., René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, III: Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes 1949-1967, London, 1993, p. 474.
    ix René Magritte quoted in Kathleen Rooney and Eric Plattner, eds., René Magritte: Selected Writings, trans. Jo Levy, Minneapolis, 2016, p. 3.

    • Provenance

      Marguerite and Howard Cullman, New York (acquired directly from the artist in Brussels in 1958)
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Literature

      Marcel Mariën, ed., "Le Garde-Fou," 1950, published in Le Fait accompli, no. 76, December 1972, n.p.
      David Sylvester, ed., René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, III: Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes 1949-1967, London, 1993, app. no. 124, pp. 12, 474
      Kathleen Rooney and Eric Plattner, eds., René Magritte: Selected Writings, Minneapolis, 2016, pp. 114-115

Property from the Estate of Marguerite Cullman

13

Le coup de grâce

signed "Magritte" upper right; titled and dated ""LE COUP DE GRÂCE" 1947" on the reverse
oil on canvas
15 7/8 x 11 7/8 in. (40.3 x 30.2 cm)
Painted in 1947, the authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Comité Magritte.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $1,966,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Global Managing Director and Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1278
[email protected]

Carolyn Mayer
Associate Specialist, Associate Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206
[email protected]

 

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2022