Marcel Lecomte, a Belgian poet active within the Dada and Surrealist groups and a lifelong friend of Magritte’s, astutely described the painter’s compositional technique in a text written in 1961: ‘The objects and figures… were never meant to exist collectively. They are always very strongly singled out, so that we feel their presence in a very concrete way … What event are they waiting for, unless it is that of the mystery of their meeting on the same canvas, the mystery of their close, combined identity?’ (quoted in Sarah Whitfield, Magritte (exhibition catalogue), The South Bank Centre, London, 1992, p. 37). In the present work, the objects and landscape possess an enigmatic autonomy as they are suspended in space. An acute tension is created between the flat plane of the dark canvas and the deep space of the landscape and the apparent three-dimensionality of the handkerchiefs, emphasising the mystery that Magritte expertly conjures in his works.
In 1920 Magritte was introduced to Edouard-Léon-Théodore Mesens by their mutual acquaintance, the Belgian artist Karel Maes at the first exhibition of the artist’s Cubo-Futurist work organised by the Centre d’Art in Brussels. Mesens was a man of numerous talents and occupations – a musician, poet, critic and gallerist – who was to become Magritte’s most vociferous supporter and promoter. In the mid-1920s Mesens and Magritte published the short-lived reviews Oesophage and Marie and contributed to the last edition of Francis Picabia’s Dadaist review 391. Having partly abandoned his musical career Mesens set about selling and promoting avant-garde art, first at the Galerie Manteau, and later at Paul-Gustave van Hecke’s Galerie L’Époque in Brussels. Mesens and Van Hecke became the principal dealers in Magritte’s work, and as such they sold the present composition to the Galerie Le Centaure in 1929. Soon after the sale the Galerie Le Centaure was forced to close and the stock liquidated and Mesens was able to buy a number of paintings, including the present work.
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