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

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  • Painted in 1964, Le météore is the culmination of René Magritte’s decades-long interrogation of the enigmatic possibilities of anthropomorphism. The play on portraiture depicts a horse whose features conform with human standards of beauty—glassy blue eyes, arched brows, and wavy, long blonde tresses. A miniature turret impossibly rests atop her head, reminiscent of a unicorn’s horn. Evoking the composition and radiance of Florentine Renaissance portraits, the horse’s profile is portrayed before a deep ruby curtain that divides the picture plane, behind which lies one of Magritte’s familiar elongated forests. This mystifying scene is executed in the artist’s iconic hard-edge idiom, an emblem of his mature style situating the viewer in a convincing dreamscape that transcends all logic and reason. Coalescing a number of Magritte’s salient motifs, Le météore epitomizes the Surrealist master’s incongruous combinations that have become hallmarks of the movement’s legacy.

     

    Piero della Francesca, Diptych of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza, c. 1465. Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Image: Bridgeman Images
    Piero della Francesca, Diptych of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza, c. 1465. Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Image: Bridgeman Images

    Magritte employed the personified horse trope a handful of times throughout his corpus, betraying a predilection for repetition that echoed Freud’s preoccupation with recurring dream elements. The subject was included in a painting with the same title from 1944 before resurfacing in La raison pure in 1948, which saw the addition of the ruby curtain. While the present work epitomizes the crisp refinement Magritte is renowned for, these earlier examples—executed during his Renoir and vache periods—are rendered in feathery, impressionist brushwork. The turret first appeared in a couple paintings from the mid-1950s, including Le cœur du monde, 1956, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, substantiating its  allusion to chess: a game whose infinite symbolic and strategical possibilities fascinated Magritte and many of the other Surrealists. Melding a rook with a knight, the final iteration of the motif was reunited with the curtain in Le météore, an amalgamation of several of the artist’s favorite iconographic details.

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

    The horse always played a significant role in Magritte’s symbolic lexicon, originally featuring in the canvas the artist considered to be his first Surrealist work—Le jockey perdu, 1926. A symbol of both wild escape and disoriented nightmare, what Magritte called “the problem of the horse” soon became one of his most enduring themes. According to David Sylvester, this concept posed questions about the nature of the human-animal binary that Magritte attempted to reconcile in his paintings, such as Le météore. “It seems a classic case of a Magritte ‘problem,’ with the ‘problem’ as hair and the solution the affinity between human tresses and an animal’s mane,” he inferred. “Such interchangeability of human with animal is part of the strong fairy-tale element in works of this year.”i

     

    Portrait of René Magritte. Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY
    Portrait of René Magritte. Image: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY

    Le météore is from a larger body of work exploring different permutations of anthropomorphic creatures that began in the 1940s and preoccupied Magritte for the rest of his career. Redolent of the fantastical quality of dreams, these subjects ranged from pigs to the artist’s own Pomeranian dogs. Sarah Whitfield, an expert on Magritte’s work, has pointed out that paintings like Le météore were inspired by portrayals of hybrid animals in popular culture. “In the course of his search for ‘a new poetic effectiveness which would bring us both charm and pleasure,’ Magritte had the idea of painting animals with human characteristics,” she elucidated. “Writing to a friend about the painting of the horse Magritte told him that the impression it made was ‘fairy-like’, and fairy tales in which animals dress, talk and behave like humans were, of course, the inspiration for this brief interlude of painting ‘animal’ portraits. Magritte’s intentions were to show that the human qualities of animals were superior to those of man.”ii

     

    Leonora Carrington, Self-Portrait, ca. 1937-38. The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Estate of Leonora Carrington / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Leonora Carrington, Self-Portrait, ca. 1937-38. The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Estate of Leonora Carrington / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "The function of painting is to make poetry visible."
    —René Magritte

    Magritte’s dreamlike realm in Le météore unleashes his signature aesthetic of the uncanny sublime, so central to the philosophy of Surrealism and a consistent thread through much of postmodernism. Undermining the world’s contradictions as strangely as our subconscious does was one of the movement’s central tenets; anthropomorphism was one of key aesthetic devices Magritte and his peers utilized in its pursuit. Oscillating between seemingly set dichotomies—rook and knight, human and non-human, forest and theatrical set— Le météore exemplifies the singular imagery that has been used as a point of departure for generations of artists. When the work was first exhibited in 1971, a critic called the painting “a combination of literal and figurative that interact to suggest the magical nature of another age.” Le météore, he attested, is a choice example of an instance when “the artist and the spirit of the time cross trajectories and the result is a major work of art.”iii

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    Magritte, Le coeur du monde, c. 1955. Artwork: © 2022 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    René Magritte, Le coeur du monde, c. 1955. Artwork: © 2022 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

    •  Magritte’s Le coeur du monde, c. 1955, a small-scale (18.2 x 13.4 cm, or approx. 7 x 5 in.) preparatory gouache on paper, shown above, realized $2.16 million at auction this past spring.


    i David Sylvester, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings and Objects 1931-1948, vol. II, London, 1993, p. 336.
    ii Sarah Whitfield, Magritte, exh. cat., The South Bank Centre, London, 2002.
    iii William D. Case, "In the Galleries," Arts Magazine, vol. 46, no. 3, December 1971/January 1972, p. 67.

    • Provenance

      Chaim Perelman, Brussels (acquired directly from the artist)
      Dr. Noémi Perelman Mattis and Dr. Daniel C. Mattis (by descent from the above)
      Brook Street Gallery, London
      Jan Krugier, Geneva (acquired circa 1970)
      Marci Collection Trust (acquired from the above)
      Private Collection, Geneva (acquired from the above)
      Alexander Iolas, Athens
      Private Collection (acquired circa 1995)
      Sotheby's, New York, November 4, 2014, lot 68
      Martin Lawrence Galleries, San Francisco
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Lerner-Misrachi Gallery, Inner Spaces/Outer Limits: Myths and Myth Makers, November 29–December 25, 1971, n.p. (illustrated on the cover)
      Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Dalí & Magritte, October 11, 2019–February 16, 2020, no. 99, p. 203 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      William D. Case, "In the Galleries," Arts Magazine, vol. 46, no. 3, December 1971/January 1972, p. 66 (illustrated)
      David Sylvester, ed., René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, III: Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes 1949-1967, London, 1993, no. 995, p. 398 (illustrated)

Property of an Esteemed Private Collector

Ο ◆9

Le météore

signed "Magritte" lower left; titled "“LE MÉTÉORE„" on the reverse
oil on canvas
21 1/2 x 18 1/8 in. (54.6 x 46 cm)
Painted in 1964.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for $4,265,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2022