- René Magritte
- LA PARADE
- signed Magritte (lower right); titled and dated 1940 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 65 by 50cm.
- 25 5/8 by 19 3/4 in.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in the late 1940s and until circa 1980)
Galerie Gianna Sistu, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the mid-1980s
Paris, Galerie du Pont-Royal, 1948
Painted in 1940, La Parade is a work of inherent contradiction. From its title alone, we expect a composition that is enlivened or jubilant. But what we see is a serene and inanimate object, presented with great formality against a regal curtain backdrop. Magritte has created a work of art that provokes the viewer with a series of complex visual propositions. The bare-leafed tree, with its bark photo-realistically depicted, is cropped just at the point that its branches begin to extend from the trunk. The ground beneath it is smooth and seemingly undisturbed by whatever roots this tree should possess. The curtain, a recurrent feature of Magritte's pictures from this era, partially opens to reveal an illuminated background but otherwise shrouds the image in mystery. This richly symbolic composition, one of Magritte's most poignant from the beginning of the war, shows how the artist pursued his heady Surrealist objectives despite the distractions and chaos of the times.
The disconnect between the subject of this picture and its title was typical for Magritte's best compositions. Titles were often assigned to his paintings upon completion and very frequently decided upon by his friends. An informative title, Magritte believed, denied the viewer the experience of using his imagination when confronted with a given image. This was specifically true for the image of the tree, which was a favourite subject for the artist. In later years, Magritte told André Breton that using a descriptive title for his tree compositions mislead the viewer and undermined the greater significance of his subject: 'To name the image of a tree "Tree" is an error, a "mistaken identity," since the image of a tree is separate from what it shows' (quoted in Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, p. 109).
This stoic image of a tree was one of several that Magritte would depict throughout his career. In some of his pictures from the beginning of the war, the tree would be the central focus (fig. 1), whereas in others it was a significant element of the background (fig. 2) or transposed onto another object. The artist believed that the tree was as sentient as any other living thing and possessed a special transformative power. In a letter to his friend Louis Scutenaire, Magritte elaborated on its metamorphic potential: 'Pushed from the earth toward the sun, a tree is an image of certain happiness. To perceive this image we must be immobile like a tree. When we are moving, it is the tree that becomes the spectator. It is witness, equally, in the shape of chairs, tables, and doors to the more or less agitated spectacle of our life. The tree, having become a coffin, disappears into the earth. And when it is tranformed into fire, it vanishes into air' (ibid., p. 109).