René Magritte (1898-1967)
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René Magritte (1898-1967)


René Magritte (1898-1967)
signed 'Magritte' (lower left)
oil on canvas
21 x 25 3/8 in. (53.4 x 64.2 cm.)
Painted in 1936
Claude Spaak, Brussels, by whom acquired shortly after completion.
Hugo Gallery, New York, by 1947.
A. Reynolds Morse, Cleveland, by whom acquired from the above in early 1948.
Mr and Mrs Earl McGrath, New York.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 2 July 1969, lot 85.
Marlborough Fine Art, London, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Private collection, Madrid, by whom acquired from the above before 1993.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Letter from Magritte to Scutenaire and Hamoir, 1 March 1937.
A.-E. Degrange, 'Surréalisme pas mort!', in La Nouvelle Gazette de Bruxelles, 9 January 1946, p. 2.
D. Sylvester (ed.), René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings and Objects, 1931-1948, vol. II, Antwerp, 1993, no. 409 (illustrated p. 224).
Brussels, Galerie des Editions Boétie, Surréalisme, December 1945 - February 1946.
New York, Hugo Gallery, René Magritte, April 1947, no. 17.
New York, Byron Gallery, René Magritte, November - December 1968, no. 8 (illustrated p. 13).
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 17.5% on the buyer's premium.


Giovanna Bertazzoni
Giovanna Bertazzoni


Amongst some of the most mysterious of René Magritte's visions are those in which nothing is quite impossible, and yet we are vividly aware that we are in the realm of the unknown and the unexpected. Such is the case in L'avenir, painted in 1936: a baguette lies on a table, with the window-like frame of a building behind it and beyond, a night-shrouded landscape with a starry sky. Magritte has managed to evoke an incredible air of mystery in L'avenir. Indeed, that sense of mystery is heightened by our familiarity with Magritte's works, with our knowledge of the riddles and visual devices that so often underpin his paintings in the form of leaf-trees, floating rocks and eagle-shaped mountains. The contrast between those works and the deliberately and potently understated L'avenir is emphasised by the presence of bread in several later works in more overtly Magrittean contexts, for instance the floating baguettes of Le légende dorée and La force des choses, both of 1958.

L'avenir dates from an incredibly rich period in Magritte's career, when his name had become increasingly established and his unique Surreal vision had more and more admirers, at home and abroad. In terms of his immediate circle, this was apparent in the new support provided for and arranged by his friend Claude Spaak, the first owner of L'avenir. Spaak was a writer and had also been the Director of the Societé Auxiliaire des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts, set up to ease the financial difficulties faced by the Palais des Beaux-Arts by selling artists' works. In 1931 he was introduced to Magritte by E.L.T. Mesens, and within a short time Spaak was avidly collecting his paintings. Concerned at Magritte's reliance on commercial commissions, in 1935 Spaak began to pay him a stipend in return for first refusal of his pictures, and also organised other people to contribute funds to the artist. During the period that L'avenir was painted, Spaak and his family and friends came to feature in a group of portraits by Magritte as well.

This new patronage reflected a wider change in circumstances and reputation for Magritte, for during the course of 1936, as well as having several one-man exhibitions in Belgium and abroad, his works featured in prominent group exhibitions organised by the Surrealists, including the legendary one held in London's New Burlington Galleries. The 'International Surrealist Exhibition' was hung by the guru of Surrealism, André Breton, in collaboration with Magritte's friend and compatriot Mesens. It was on the occasion of this show, which Magritte himself did not attend despite Mesens' supplications, that the Spanish artist Salvador Dalí notoriously tried to give a lecture while wearing a diving bell; the lack of oxygen meant that he had to be extracted from the contraption before he suffocated.

Just as it featured in Magritte's oeuvre, including L'avenir, so too bread formed a part of Dalí's iconographic arsenal, featuring in several of his works. As early as 1926, as a young artist just out of his academy, Dalí painted a lifelike image of a basket filled with several morsels of bread, and in 1945 painted another that showed a single loaf on a table. In these works, as well as the sculptures in which he incorporated baguettes, most famously his 1933 Retrospective Bust of a Woman, where the porcelain likeness was capped with a loaf, above which stood an inkwell. Bread appears to have served in Dalí's works as a symbol of sustenance, of the Eucharist and of plenty, and so these inclusions of bread illustrate precisely the difference between the two Surrealists: for where the Spanish Surrealist's works relied on his own arcane symbolism and his Paranoiac-Critical Technique, Magritte insisted that the depicted objects in his own pictures were precisely that: objects in their own rights. This is reflected in a letter that Magritte wrote several decades later having viewed an exhibition that featured his work:

'There is a notice in one vitrine describing the objects represented in my pictures as 'symbols.' I'd appreciate your correcting this. They are objects (bells, skies, trees, etc.) and not 'symbols.' In the representational arts, symbols are for the most part employed by artists who are very respectful of a certain way of thinking: that of endowing an object with some conventional and commonplace meaning. My concept of painting, on the contrary, tends to restore to the objects their value as objects (which never fails to shock those who cannot look at a painting without automatically wondering what may be symbolic, allegorical, etc., about it)' (Magritte, quoted in H. Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, trans. R. Miller, New York, 1977, p. 223).

In L'avenir, the bread serves an evocative purpose, rather than a symbolic one, in that it introduces a domesticity to the composition. And it is here that the resonances of the picture begin to play out: for this familiar element, located in the mysterious night landscape, becomes mysterious through its location, its juxtaposition, the formality of its pose... These all combine to saturate the painting with atmosphere, with a sense of the Stimmung that had been so crucial to Giorgio de Chirico's paintings. Magritte's great epiphany, the revelation that had turned him down the path of what was to become his Surrealism, came in 1923 when he had seen de Chirico's Le chant d'amour in reproduction. Recalling that critical moment, Magritte said of de Chirico's painting:

'This triumphant poetry replaced the stereotyped effects of traditional painting. It was a total break with the mental habits characteristic of artists who were prisoners of talent, virtuosity, and all the minor aesthetic specialities. It meant a new vision in which the spectator rediscovered his isolation and listened to the world's silence' (Magritte in 1938, quoted in ibid., p. 214).

While the planar forms of the framing structure may recall the table-tops and piazze in de Chirico's pictures, and the presence of the bread might echo the biscuits in some of the Metafisica master's still life images, in L'avenir Magritte has conjured precisely this isolation and silence through his own unique, lyrical, poetic means.