Lot 37
  • 37

René Magritte

700,000 - 1,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • René Magritte
  • La Mémoire
  • Signed Magritte (lower left); signed Magritte, inscribed 1 Projet pour La Mémoire/ 1 Project for Memory and dated 1944 on the reverse
  • Gouache on paper
  • 9 3/4 by 13 in.
  • 24.8 by 33.5 cm


International Galleries, Chicago

Sigmund Edelstone (acquired from the above)

The Estate of Sigmund E. Edelstone (sold: Christie's, New York, November 14, 1984, lot 263)

Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels

Acquired from the above in 1985


David Sylvester, Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. IV, London, 1994, no. 1436, illustrated p. 201

Catalogue Note

Magritte first rendered a variant of this image in oil in 1942 and continued to develop the theme over the next two decades.  The present work dates from around 1957, but the artist inscribed it with the earlier date 1944 in order to evade the terms of his contract with his dealer Iolas.  According to the catalogue raisonné, the present work most closely relates to a composition from 1954 (no. 806 in catalogue raisonne).

The bust which appears in the the present gouache is a recognizable motif from Magritte's work of the 1940s. Magritte owned a cast of this subject and turned it into a sculpture in 1945. Sarah Whitfield identifies the origin of this plaster bust as "stocked by the Maison Berger, the artist's material shop run by Magritte's sister-in-law who thought, mistakenly, that it was a cast of the celebrated death mask of a young suicide, L'Inconnue de la Seine" (Sarah Whitfield, Magritte (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London, 1992-93, n.p.). In La Mémoire, Magritte confounds the reading of the image as a sculpture bust, animating the face with bright red blood.

Ulf Küster describes the subtle power of this image as it appears in the artist's oeuvre, "Her eyes are closed, her hair braided and fastened by a bow resting high on her head... Magritte owned several copies of this plaster bust. The original, by an anonymous craftsman, dates from sometime around the turn of the century. Perhaps the poignant and unsettling aspect of this painting is the red stain on the woman's face, as if she were bleeding after suffering a blow to the head above her right eye.... Perhaps it is possible to interpret the stained symmetry of this classically beautiful plaster bust in its carefully balanced environment by taking our cue from the title, which, as it turns out, was not supplied by Magritte. Bearing the title in mind, what we may be confronted with in this painting is a metaphor for our cultural memory, stained so often over the course of the twentieth century. This is, however, only one interpretation. As Magritte wrote in a letter from 1964, he was concerned in his work solely with 'knowing what must be painted so that the visible the world offers is united in such a way as to evoke the mystery of the visible and the invisible.' And a mystery, after all, can hardly be interpreted" (René Magritte, The Key to Dreams (exhibition catalogue), Kunstforum, Vienna & Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2005, p. 126).