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

La chambre du devin (The seer's chamber)

René Magritte (1898-1967)
La chambre du devin (The seer's chamber)
signed 'Magritte' (lower right)
oil on canvas
29½ x 25 5/8 in. (75 x 65 cm.)
Painted in 1926
Galerie Le Centaure [P.G. Van Hecke], Brussels.
E.L.T. Mesens, Brussels, by whom acquired from the above in 1931.
Grosvenor Gallery, London, by whom acquired from the above in 1961.
Private collection, Monte Carlo.
Studio Bellini, Milan.
Acquired by the present owner in 1996.
P.G. Van Hecke, 'René Magritte, peintre de la pensée abstraite', in Sélection, Antwerp, 1927, p. 445 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester & S. Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, Oil Paintings, 1916-1930, Antwerp, 1992, no. 88, p. 174 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Magritte, Brussels, 2009, pp. 82, 111 & 434, (illustrated p. 78).
Brussels, Galerie Le Centaure, Exposition Magritte, April - May 1927, no. 35.
Liège, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Salon quatriennal de Belgique, September - October 1931, no. 194.
Antwerp, Zaal Comité voor Artistieke Werking, De Vier hoofdpunten van het surrealisme: René Magritte, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy, April 1956, no. 20.
London, Grosvenor Gallery, Magritte, September - October 1961, no. 12.
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, La pittura metafisica, May - September 1979, no. 118.
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas
Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas


La chambre du devin is an important and historic early painting by René Magritte. Painted in 1926, only shortly after he had begun to develop his now-iconic Surreal style, La chambre du devin featured both in Magritte's first one-man show and in the first significant article dedicated to his work, both of which occurred in 1927, the year following its execution. This picture also featured in a number of Magritte's lifetime exhibitions.

La chambre du devin shows a wooden silhouette figure jutting out through a cavity in a wall which resembles a stage set. There is a sense of mysterious machinery to the picture, with protruding poles and other elements lending an ambience that is partly alien. However, the various items shown nonetheless hover near the borders of recognition. In this, Magritte reveals the debt that he owed to one of the great pioneers of Pittura Metafisica, Giorgio de Chirico. It was only shortly before La chambre du devin was painted that Magritte had seen his work in reproduction. This was one of the greatest epiphanies of twentieth-century art: within a short time, Magritte forsook the post-Cubist and post-Futurist idioms that had characterised his pictures, and instead began to explore the powerful potential of poetic juxtapositions.

Magritte had seen de Chirico's painting Le chant d'amour, his 1914 masterpiece showing an ancient bust, a rubber glove and a green ball. These contrasting objects, some from a classical past and some from a more prosaic, accessible present, marked Magritte. In La chambre du devin, it is clear how Magritte transformed that notion to his own purposes. Wooden figures in silhouette joined by planks thrust into the foreground through a cragged hole which recalls, in its shape, flames, or is perhaps the remnants of some forceful impact. The echo of the two matching, linked silhouette figures recalls the theme of doubles that recurred throughout Magritte's work during this time, for instance in Le sens de la nuit of the following year, which featured in the same exhibition as La chambre du devin in 1927 and which is now in the Menil Collection, Houston; or L'assassin menacé with its near-identical lurking figures (Museum of Modern Art, New York). This, combined with the inclusion of wooden cut-outs of human figures, fills La chambre du devin with a sense of innate mystery and otherness, as though it were a vision of the workings behind the veil of our understanding.

It is a mark of the quality of La chambre du devin that it was included in Magritte's first one-man show, which comprised 49 paintings and a dozen collages and was held at the Galerie Le Centaure. This was the gallery founded by Walter Schwarzenberg which had opened new premises on the avenue Louise only shortly beforehand. Magritte's exhibition appears to have taken place there largely because he had signed a contract the previous year with Paul-Gustave Van Hecke, who would become one of his key patrons during this early period of his career as a Surrealist. Magritte had been introduced to Van Hecke through his friend E.L.T. Mesens; as early as 1924, Magritte had even painted a double portrait of him with his wife, herself a prominent patron of his works who had also asked him to carry out several commercial commissions.

It was Van Hecke who also wrote the first article dedicated to Magritte, published in his own review, Sélection in March 1927. The article was entitled 'René Magritte: peintre de la pensée abstraite'. That idea of a 'painter of abstract thought' is perfectly embodied in La chambre du devin, and it comes as little surprise that this picture was the first to be illustrated full-page in that article. This picture, then, dates to the period when Magritte's pictures were first making their impact on the larger art world, at the dawn of his involvement with Surrealism.

In his article on Magritte, Van Hecke described the artist's work in terms which are perfectly apt to La chambre du devin:

'In speaking of the painting of René Magritte, in which the conjunction of the beautiful-absurd and the implacable-essential achieves total expression, only the direct language of cold reason is appropriate. The emotion is within, cool or warm, take your choice. However, the necessity to explain must not be allowed to stifle... the need to feel. As in yourself, the need to understand. Already, from now on, faced with the magic of the spectacle, let us reserve for ourselves - for our own use as spectators, a portion of mystery, or, if you prefer, obscurity. Our reserve of emotions' (Van Hecke, quoted in D. Sylvester & S. Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, Antwerp, 1992, p. 67).