Lot 41
  • 41

René Magritte

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • René Magritte
  • Shéhérazade
  • signed Magritte (upper right); signed Magritte, titled and dated 1956 on the reverse
  • gouache on paper
  • 24.5 by 18.8cm.
  • 9 5/8 by 7 3/8 in.


Barnet & Eleanor Cramer Hodes, Chicago (acquired from the artist in 1956)

Galerie Hopkins Custot, Paris

Private Collection (acquired from the above. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 19th June 2006, lot 44)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, The Vision of René Magritte, 1962, no. 28


Letter from Magritte to Barnet Hodes, 1st August 1956

David Sylvester (ed.), Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte. Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1994, vol. IV, no. 1412, illustrated p. 189

Catalogue Note

The present work is one of Magritte’s most elegant renderings of the image of the pearl-woman, in which he explores the paradox of the visible and the invisible, of the solid and the intangible. Made up of strings of pearls forming various shapes, some of them filled with a woman’s eyes and mouth, the image appears like a mirage in a mysterious setting. The motif of the pearl-woman first appeared in several small gouaches (fig. 1) and an oil executed in 1947. The intricately composed female face alludes to the mystery surrounding the legendary storyteller, as Magritte explained: ‘Sheherazade is the name given to the pearl-woman object in memory of The Thousand and One Nights’ (quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), op. cit., vol. II, p. 387). Her beauty is evident, yet fleeting; she is an image, a fantasy that is visible though nonexistent.


Shéhérazade was one of the first gouaches commissioned from Magritte by Barnet Hodes and sent to the Chicago-based collector in August 1956. Hodes, one of the artist's earliest patrons in the United States, most likely chose the subject of the present work and the other two (D. Sylvester (ed.), op. cit., nos. 1410 & 1411) from a recent exhibition catalogue that Magritte had sent him. The 1951 oil La Folie Almayer (fig. 2) was illustrated in the catalogue directly below the reproduction of the oil version of Shéhérazade. Hodes must have been fascinated by both images, and Magritte incorporated the motif of an ancient tower metamorphosing into roots of a tree in the background of the present work.


On the occasion of a major Magritte retrospective exhibition held in 1992-93, which included 150 gouaches from this collection, Sarah Whitfield wrote: 'Between 1956 and 1964 Magritte painted perhaps sixty gouaches for Barnet Hodes, a prominent Chicago lawyer with a passion for Surrealism. Through one of his clients, the painter collector William Copley, Hodes had got to know several artists living in America in the 1940s and 1950s who had been closely associated with the movement, such as Ernst, Duchamp and Matta. As a collector, one of his early ambitions had been to acquire one work by each of the artists represented in the first surrealist group exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in 1925, and in this he was extremely successful. Another was to own a gouache version of each of Magritte's major pictures [...]'

'Hodes revealed to Magritte that his aim was to acquire a sufficient number of gouaches to cover the wall of a room in his Chicago apartment. By September his goal must have been in sight for he ordered another four works 'to complete the design'. Shortly afterwards he and his wife Eleanor published a small booklet in celebration of what they called the 'Magritte wall' which listed the twenty-five works they had acquired so far. However, Hodes did not stop there. He went on to commission well over thirty more gouaches and because of his perseverance - obsession may be a better word - the wall became much more than just another handsome feature in a Chicago apartment: it grew into a remarkable and unique tribute to Magritte, a museum of his work in miniature [...]'

'[Magritte] had always found the idea of recreating his own images a desirable one, and to have the chance to create a collection of them in miniature must have appealed as much to his sense of humour as to his desire to reach a wide audience' (S. Whitfield, Magritte (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., n.p.).