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

L'état de veille

René Magritte (1898-1967)
L'état de veille
signed 'Magritte' (lower left)
gouache on paper
6 1/8 x 7 7/8 in. (15.5 x 20 cm.)
Executed in 1958
Jean Van Parys, Brussels, by whom acquired directly from the artist.
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. IV, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés, 1918-1967, London, 1994, no. 1449, p. 210 (illustrated).
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A strange occurrence has taken place in René Magritte’s L’état de veille (‘The waking state’) of 1958: next to the cropped image of a house that stands amidst a verdant landscape, a window is floating in the middle of the blue, cloud-filled sky. This floating apparition is made all the more bizarre due to the fact that the window is of exactly the same format as those of the house itself. Has this window floated off the wall in which it should reside, or perhaps the building it belongs to has been rendered invisible, or been painted with the image of the rolling hills and sky? A playful enigma, this small gouache perfectly encapsulates the overarching themes and preoccupations of Magritte’s unique form of Surrealism, bringing to the viewer’s attention the very artifice of painting, as well as revealing the mystery that lies just beneath the surface of our everyday world.
Just as Magritte had painted open doors in the middle of landscapes, so here, a window is floating in mid-air, immersing the viewer in his fantastical Surrealist world.

The concept of the floating window was first born two years before the present work, in 1956. Depicting an almost identical composition, though this time at night, L’invitée (Sylvester, no. 1420) presents the same cropped house next to which floats a single window in the middle of the sky. Accompanying this work is a sketch that Magritte included in a letter of 30 December 1955 to Mirabelle Dors and Maurice Rapin, which shows the origin of the idea. In many ways, the quiet, seemingly ordinary urban view of L’état de veille and L’invitée has equivalences with one of Magritte’s most famous motifs: L’empire des lumières. Within a conventional street scene, so familiar that it becomes overlooked and unseen, Magritte takes one aspect and alters it, and in so doing renders the ordinary at once extraordinary.

In 1958, Magritte returned to this motif, executing L’état de veille and three related gouaches (Sylvester, nos. 1446-1448). The idea is said to have been inspired by a strange vision that writer Jacques Wergifosse had encountered and subsequently recounted to Magritte. Wergifosse explained:

‘On my way to spend a day with Magritte in Brussels, for once I walked to the station. I was going along the boulevard Avroz (in Liège) when I came to a wide opening (it no longer exists) with a view of the Meuse. I looked into the distance. Suddenly, on the other side of the river, I saw a series of windows appear high up in the sky. The grey walls of the large buildings in the place d’Italie had melted into the sky. On arriving at Magritte’s house, I told him what had happened. This gave him an idea for several gouaches, three of which were called “The waking state”… This was in 1958’ (Wergifosse, quoted in D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. IV, London, 1994, p. 208).

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