Joë Bousquet, Carcassonne
Private Collection, France (acquired in 1970)
Thence by descent to the present owners
Yamaguchi, Prefectural Museum & Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art, René Magritte, 1988, no. 50, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Passions privées, 1995-96, illustrated in the catalogue
Montauban, Musée Ingres, Rencontres d'Art: Les Contrées du silence, 2002, no. 33, illustrated in the catalogue
Letter from Magritte to Louis Scutenaire & Irène Hamoir, 27th July 1940
Abraham Marie Hammacher, René Magritte, New York, 1973, no. 30, illustrated p. 29
Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, no. 26, illustrated p. 31
Abraham Marie Hammacher, René Magritte, 1986, fig. 28, illustrated p. 24
Jacques Meuris, René Magritte, Paris, 1988, no. 155, illustrated in colour p. 102
David Sylvester (ed.), Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1994, vol. IV, no. 1159, illustrated p. 43
Robert Hughes, The Portable Magritte, New York, 2001, illustrated in colour p. 193 (as dating from 1939-40)
Executed in the first half of 1940, Le Repas de noces originated during a turbulent period of Magritte’s life. Several days after Germany invaded Belgium and Holland in May of that year, the artist fled Brussels for France, fearing persecution for his previous political engagements. He first travelled to Paris with his friends, the poet Louis Scutenaire and the painter and photographer Raoul Ubac and their wives, although his own companion, Georgette, had stayed behind in Brussels. After a brief stay in Paris, in late May 1940 Magritte arrived in Carcassonne, a medieval hilltop town in southern France that was the home of the poet and collector Joë Bousquet.
Although Magritte remained in Carcassonne for only a few months, the upheaval inevitably had an effect on his art. Short of money, he produced very little work, mainly creating gouaches for collectors to whom he was introduced through Bousquet. Michel Draguet wrote about Magritte’s output during his stay in Carcassonne: ‘His work shook off the hold of reality in favour of what Breton termed “a world ruled by love and the marvellous”. His references to reality – those “fragments of external reality borne along on the waves of the oneiric imagination” – took on an increasingly distant connection with the everyday as, while continuing to work, he probed his inner world’ (M. Draguet, Magritte: His Work, His Museum, Paris, 2009, p. 108).
Le Repas de noces combines two images that Magritte explored around this time: a reclining lion and an egg on a table top. Although the composition appears to have a calm, subdued atmosphere, the combination of a powerful animal with the fragility of the egg introduces a note of mystery and disquiet. The image of a lion was first used in two oils and a gouache all bearing the title La Jeunesse illustrée, executed in 1937 (fig. 2). According to Magritte’s friend, the poet Marcel Mariën, the origin of this image was the trade-mark of the Brussels food retailer Delhaize Le Lion, a ubiquitous part of everyday life in Belgium at the time. Magritte used the image of a lion again, this time on a more monumental scale, in a large canvas Le Mal du pays, started in 1939 and finished in 1941 (fig. 3). Suzi Gablik also points out the resemblance of Magritte’s lion with Max Ernst’s collage Le Lion de Belfort 35 from his book Une Semaine de bonté (S. Gablik, Magritte, London, 1970, p. 64; fig. 1). In a letter written to his friend, the collector Edward James, Magritte described this image: ‘a lion recumbent on the carpet of a dining-room in front of the table. On the table which is covered with a very white tablecloth an egg-cup with an egg introduces a disturbing note’ (quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.) et al., op. cit., p. 43). It would appear that Magritte abandoned the idea of the carpet and instead positioned the lion on wooden floorboards, a recurrent feature in many of his oils and gouaches.
In a letter to Louis Scutenaire and Irène Hamoir dating from 24th July 1940, Magritte discusses the title of the present work. He informs them of Paul Eluard’s visit during his stay in Carcassonne, writing: ‘He has found a good title for the lion and the egg: “What is beautiful is an egg”. It is an old proverb that he intends to use as a subtitle for his book “Rencontrer”’ (quoted in ibid., p. 43). While it is interesting to note that Magritte often involved his friends, artists and poets in the process of finding titles for his works, it appears that he finally settled on a more mysterious title for the present composition.
Shortly after its execution the present work was exhibited at a local gallery Maison Ratto, and was subsequently bought by James Ducellier, a Carcassonne-based collector. Le Repas de noces was later acquired by Joë Bousquet (1897-1950), who was an important collector of Surrealist art and owned a large number of works by Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, André Masson and Hans Bellmer. Bousquet, a French poet, was wounded during the First World War and remained paralysed for the rest of his life. He carried on a correspondence with many writers and friends, including Ernst, Louis Aragon, André Gide and Paul Eluard. The work was acquired by a private French collector in 1970, and has remained in the same family to the present day.
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