Lot 29
  • 29

René Magritte

500,000 - 700,000 USD
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  • René Magritte
  • Le Musée d'une nuit
  • Signed Magritte (lower left); titled on the reverse
  • Gouache on paper
  • 7 5/8 by 9 7/8 in.
  • 19.5 by 25.2 cm


Barnet & Eleanor Cramer Hodes, Chicago (acquired from the artist in 1959)

Thence by descent


London, Hayward Gallery; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Houston, Menil Collection & Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Magritte, 1992-93, no. 150


Letter from Barnet Hodes to Magritte, July 1, 1959

Letter from Magritte to Barnet Hodes, July 3, 1959 (misdated June 3)

David Sylvester, ed., Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné: Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papier Collés, 1918-1967, 1994, no. 1462, illustrated p. 217


Very good condition. The thick paper is hinged to the acid-free mount at top edge. The verso of the sheet bears the title and artist's numbering. There is some residual glue staining along the edges from a previous mounting on the verso, but this is no way affects the appearance of the composition on the recto. The composition itself is fresh and the medium is stable. There appears to be a small crease in the upper-right corner of the composition, but otherwise the work is in very good condition.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Le Musée d’une nuit is a variant of an oil of the same title that Magritte painted in 1927 (David Sylvester, ed., op. cit., no. 171), and displays several important elements that the artist developed in the 1920s and 1930s, and to which he returned throughout his career. Magritte first started experimenting with the division of his compositions into separate compartments in 1926, dividing the picture surface into four planes, often by means of a trompe-l’œil depiction of a wooden box, the depth of each compartment emphasized by the shadow inside it. In the present work Magritte brings together four simple objects/images which are taken out of their everyday context and juxtaposed without any logical connection. He thus evokes the essential Surrealist paradigm of questioning the significance we attribute to various objects, and creating new meanings by combining these objects in unexpected ways.

Another important element in Magritte’s œuvre is the paper cut-out or découpage, which in the present work covers the lower right compartment. A sense of mystery is created by this screen which possibly conceals an object hidden behind it. The simple children’s game of cutting out bits of a folded sheet of paper which, when unfolded, results in unexpected shapes and images, introduces the element of automatism, which was at the heart of the surrealists’ creative process. This semi-abstract, two-dimensional paper cut-out, superimposed onto the three-dimensional image evokes the remark of another famous Surrealist, Max Ernst, that Magritte’s pictures are ‘collages painted entirely by hand’ (quoted in David Sylvester, Magritte, London, 1992, p. 110).

The present work is one of a number of gouaches commissioned from Magritte by Barnet Hodes, one of the artist’s earliest patrons in the United States. On the occasion of a major Magritte retrospective exhibition held in 1992-93, which included 150 gouaches from the Hodes collection, Sarah Whitfield wrote: "Between 1956 and 1964 Magritte painted perhaps sixty gouaches for Barnet Hodes, a prominent Chicago lawyer with a passion for Surrealism. Through one of his clients, the painter and collector William Copley, Hodes had got to know several artists living in America in the 1940s and 1950s who had been closely associated with the movement, such as Ernst, Duchamp and Matta. As a collector, one of his early ambitions had been to acquire one work by each of the artists represented in the first Surrealist group exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in 1925, and in this he was extremely successful. Another was to own a gouache version of each of Magritte’s major pictures" (Sarah Whitfield, Magritte (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., n.p.).