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

L'esprit du voyageur

René Magritte (1898-1967)
L'esprit du voyageur
signed 'Magritte' (lower left)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 29½ in. (65 x 75.2 cm.)
Painted in 1926
Edouard-Léon-Théodore Mesens, Brussels.
Brook Street Gallery, London, by whom acquired from the above in 1966. Galerie Arta, Geneva.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, New York, 11 May 1988, lot 368 ($ 198,000). Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 3 December 1996, lot 212 (£ 122,500).
Private collection, Los Angeles, by whom acquired at the above sale.
D. Sylvester & S. Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, Oil Paintings, 1916-1930, vol. I, London, 1992, no. 98, p. 181 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Magritte, London, 1992, p. 96 (illustrated).
Brussels, Galerie Le Centaure, Exposition Magritte, April - May 1927, no. 33.
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.


Painted in 1926, L'esprit du voyageur dates from the historic early period when René Magritte developed his idiosyncratic and highly-celebrated Surrealism. This picture, which featured the following year in the first ever one-man show dedicated to the artist, shows a mysterious, dark-enshrouded landscape barren of anything, except some incongruous frames and one of the bilboquets, the ball-and-hoop toys shaped like chess pieces, which were to become so iconic in his work. Standing like a wanderer from a painting by Caspar David Friedrich against this rugged mountainous view, the bilboquet appears almost human, yet the picture is filled with a deliberate stillness, an intense atmosphere reminiscent of the Stimmung that the painter Giorgio de Chirico had sought to capture in his Pittura Metafisica the previous decade.

It was only a couple of years before he painted L'esprit du voyageur that Magritte had first seen de Chirico's Le chant d'amour, a moment which he ranked as the great epiphany in his turn towards Surrealism. He percolated the influence over the following years, constructing pictures in which disparate elements were shown within either interior spaces or, often, brooding landscapes such as the one in L'esprit du voyageur. David Sylvester pointed out in his re-published monograph on Magritte that these pictures were essentially painted collages: Magritte would copy elements from publications and other sources and incorporate them, reproducing them in oils, in his work. Sylvester also pointed out that the hill-like forms in the background resemble the slag heaps in evidence during Magritte's childhood in a part of Belgium's countryside that was marked by industrial-scale mining. Here, though, Magritte has transformed these elements into something new, something mysterious, an atmospheric landscape of the mind in which the bilboquet, Magritte and we ourselves are the pioneers.