In the last decade of his life, Magritte executed several versions of Le Banquet in oil and gouache, in some of which the landscape is seen through a window from an interior, or from a balcony. In the present work, however, the artist achieved maximum effect by reducing the visual vocabulary to its minimum. A neutral landscape is transformed here by revealing what would normally be hidden, and the visible and invisible elements coexist on the picture plane. The perfectly round shape in the center of the composition, depicting the disc of the setting sun, appeared in several other compositions throughout Magritte’s oeuvre. This synthesis of night and day evokes the artist’s celebrated image of L’Empire des lumières, and imbues this work with a mysterious and poetic quality unique to Magritte’s art.
Magritte's subversion of the fundamental properties of nature were an extension of his fascination with "elective affinities," or the idea that parallels can exist between two seemingly unrelated objects when depicted together. Taking this philosophy a step further, he explored the disorienting effect of rearranging related objects in unexpected combinations that transformed their identity. His first foray into this process was with the composition La Place au soleil, but the present work and L'Empire des lumières are two of the most successful examples of this technique. By superimposing the sun onto a cluster of trees, he obscures the clear relationship between the two images and their role in the narrative of his composition. Magritte tried to explain his artistic objective for these compositions in the following terms: "What is seen on an object is another object hidden by the one which is interposed between us and the hidden object. In such a way that the object which is interposed (the apple or the chair for instance), is partly hidden by the object (the scribe or the seated woman) which was hidden. That which is interposed between an object and us is hidden by the object which is no longer hidden?!?!?" (quoted in D. Sylvester, Op. cit., p. 254). The resulting confusion created by these compositions is wholly intentional.
The present work can also be seen as a later development to the series of works that Magritte produced on the theme of day and night and which found its fullest expression in the L’Empire des lumières paintings. Magritte described the significance of those works in an interview in 1956, “What is represented in a picture is what is visible to the eye, it is the thing or the things that had to be thought of. Thus, what is represented in the picture [L'empire des lumières] are the things I thought of, to be precise, a nocturnal landscape and a skyscape such as can be seen in broad daylight. The landscape suggests night and the skyscape day. This evocation of night and day seems to me to have the power to surprise and delight us. I call this power: poetry. The reason why I believe the evocation to have this poetic power is, among other things, because I have always felt the greatest interest in night and day’ (quoted in D. Sylvester, Op. cit., vol. III, p. 145). This combination was among Magritte’s most successful and one that he returned to throughout his life – including in what turned out to be his last complete painting La Page blanche. In this work he returned to a fully nocturnal scene that maintains this interest in the relationship between day and night while also exploring notions of concealment and revelation in a manner that is strongly reminiscent of the present work. Le Banquet exemplifies the very best of Magritte's work, seamlessly blending precisely rendered, familiar imagery - trees, water, sky, sun - into an ambiguous time and place, thereby upholding the artist's most important contributions to the Surrealist lexicon.
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