L e Temps Jadis bears witness to a powerful simplicity, characteristic of Magritte's final artistic period, which synthesized an artistic career made up of myriad influences.
This painting is thus evocative of what the artist told Pierre Demarne in a 1961 interview for the magazine Rhétorique: 'The visible presented by the world is rich enough to constitute a poetic language evocative of mystery.' Created a year before the artist's death, this work bears witness to René Magritte's career-long reflection on the apparent opposition between reality and illusion. It contains iconographic themes that the painter held dear.
Fire is a recurring element in his work, first seen in 1934 in L'Échelle du Feu. Likewise, the painter depicted crows on multiple occasions, including in Le Prince Charmant (1948), where the figure of the bird is — as in this work — represented in the foreground on the right-hand side of the work.
"All my latest pictures are leading me toward the simplified painting that I have long wanted to achieve; it is in short the ever more rigorous search for what, in my view, is the essential element in art: purity and precision in the image of mystery, which becomes decisive through being shorn of everything incidental or accidental."
Although the presence of a fire does not seem out of the ordinary in Le Temps Jadis, the crow's head that meets the viewer's gaze is quite puzzling. From this stare emerges a profound sense of humanity, as the crow's head is embedded into a bilboquet [a cup-and-ball toy], scaled up to human size. Here, mystery reigns supreme, conveyed by the strangeness of the association between the disparate elements and by the limited palette of a few gradated colours.
The bilboquet, whose handle takes the form of a chess piece, is a theme that is also frequently found in the painter's oeuvre. It was seen as early as the 1920s, in paintings such as Nocturne and Les Deux Soeurs, and became anthropomorphic in 1926 in La Naissance de l'Idole. Le Temps Jadis also reworks the composition of La Belle Lurette, made a year earlier in 1965, embedding the crow's head into a bilboquet instead of an eyeball.
This artwork is an excellent example of Magritte’s desire for synthesis, which characterised the artist’s paintings toward the end of his life. It is constructed using elements of the formal, enigmatic vocabulary that developed throughout his career: the fire, the crow, the cup and ball game, mountains in the background...here the artist arranges them within a stark landscape. The fire that burns silently, painted in vibrant, shimmering colours, does not quite succeed in warming up this magical, nocturnal atmosphere, and nothing seems to be able to disturb the penetrating gaze of the crow on the handle of the cup and ball game. The Magrittian mystery lives on.