Details & Cataloguing

Surrealist Art Evening Sale


René Magritte
1898 - 1967
signed Magritte (lower left)
gouache on paper
34.5 by 26cm.
13 1/2 by 10 1/4 in.
Executed in 1962.
Lire le rapport d'état Lire le rapport d'état


Lou Cosyn, Brussels (acquired from the artist by 1964)

Private Collection (acquired from the above)

Simon Dickinson Fine Art Ltd., London

Acquired from the above by the present owner


David Sylvester & Sarah Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés, Volume IV: 1918- 1967, New York, 1993, no. 1508, illustrated p. 243


Executed in 1962, Les belles réalités is a witty and compelling example of Magritte’s preoccupation with the unexpected and surprising juxtaposition of objects. Set against a monochromatic background, these everyday objects are transformed both in scale and through their spatial inversion, with the table resting atop the apple. This combination of objects was one that Magritte returned to throughout his career, both in other variants of the present work and with images of a table laid with bread, water and apples. The fundamental familiarity of the apple and table and their association with the tradition of still life painting make them the ideal subjects for a Surrealist transformation that questions simultaneously the inherent nature of the object and the act of painting.

The image of the apple is one that appears repeatedly in Magritte’s paintings in a number of contexts: sometimes grotesquely enlarged to fill an entire room, sometimes fossilised into stone, or, as in the series titled Le prêtre marié, where masked apples are placed in a landscape. Magritte’s fascination with the apple can be partly explained by its specific physiognomy which he deliberately emphasises in the paintings where it is used as a cipher for other objects as in L'autre son de cloche (fig. 2) or the series of works where an apple covers or replaces the face of a man (fig. 1). Sarah Whitfield comments on the importance of the apple’s physical properties, writing that the over-sized and perfectly formed apple was ‘almost certainly taken from a horticultural catalogue of the kind found among Magritte’s papers. And just as a catalogue of that sort insists on flawlessness so Magritte insists on perfection of both form and colour. Here, the spherical shape of the apple, like that of the silver bells (“grelots”), has a symmetry, an uninterrupted wholeness that is a paradigm of the ordering Magritte imposes on an image’ (S. Whitfield, in Magritte (exhibition catalogue), The Hayward Gallery, London, 1992). The implied perfection of Magritte’s depiction of the apple is central to understanding Magritte’s intentions for the present work, as he explained when discussing a drawing of the same subject: ‘Les belles réalités is in keeping with the idea that the much vaunted “Sense of reality” must not be understood in accordance with the deep-rooted prejudice that “reality” is always ugly, exhausting etc.’ (quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1993, vol. III, p. 360).

The motif of the apple was also central to Magritte’s interrogation of the painted form, as Marcel Paquet explains: ‘the painted pipe is no pipe, in the same way that other pictures by Magritte contain no apple, no woman, no wood and no hammer. The work reveals the inner distance to that which is visible, that space in which the art of painting can develop. One feels something like the impotence, the limitations, of painting, since its basic structure and fundamental nature mean that it is separated from reality, from its model. At the same time, however, this separation is the characteristic of a power that is surreal, magical, quite other in nature, namely the ability to betray reality, to allow a rock to hover in mid-air, or to depict an apple that fills the entire space of a room [fig. 3]’ (M. Paquet, René Magritte 1898-1967, Cologne, 2013, p. 67).

The bright tones and intricate brushwork of the present work are characteristic of Magritte’s use of gouache. Siegfried Gohr discussed the importance of this medium in the artist’s œuvre, writing: ‘the coloured works on paper reveal the brilliant talent of Magritte the painter. Even though he repeatedly denied his ‘artistry’, belittling the traditional habitus of the virtuoso artist genius and emphasizing instead the artist’s intellectual work, his gouaches in particular reveal how masterfully he was able to apply his extraordinary gift of visualising his pictorial ideas’ (S. Gohr, Magritte: Attempting the Impossible, New York, 2009, pp. 77-78).

Surrealist Art Evening Sale