Lot 50
  • 50

René Magritte

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
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  • René Magritte
  • signed Magritte (lower left); titled on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 41 by 33cm.
  • 16 1/8 by 13in.


Pierre & Yvette Scheidweiler, Brussels (acquired from the artist in 1967, until at least 1985)
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels
Acquired by the present owner by 1999


Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte: cent cinquante œuvres, 1968, no. 117
Brussels, Banque de Bruxelles, Magritte, 1972, no. 26
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts & Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Rétrospective Magritte, 1978-79, no. 176, illustrated in the catalogue
Tokyo, Art Gallery of Tokyo, Shibuya; Toyama, Prefectural Museum of Art & Kumamoto, Prefectural Museum of Art, René Magritte, 1982, no. 51, illustrated in colour on the catalogue cover
Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum & Høvikodden, Kunstsentret, René Magritte, 1983-84, no. 107 (in Humlebæk), no. 87 (in Høvikodden)
Paris, Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, Hommage à Magritte, 1984-85, no. 35, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Surrealism: Two Private Eyes, The Nesuhi Ertegun and Daniel Filipacchi Collections, 1999, no. 154, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Art Belge. Numéro René Magritte, Brussels, January 1968, illustrated p. 70
Harry Torczyner, Magritte, Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, no. 266, illustrated in colour p. 141
Harry Torczyner, Le Veritable Art de Peindre - Magritte, Paris, 1978, no. 67, illustrated in colour p. 59
Grands Peintres: René Magritte, Paris, 1988, illustrated in colour p. 2
David Sylvester (ed.), Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte. Catalogue raisonné, London, 1993, vol. III, no. 1059, illustrated p. 442
Siegfried Gohr, Magritte, Attempting the Impossible, New York, 2009, no. 407, illustrated in colour p. 298

Catalogue Note

Les belles relations combines several recurrent preoccupations of Magritte’s art, such as the depiction of faceless, unidentifiable figures, objects suspended in the sky and the juxtaposition of human flesh with everyday objects and landscapes. The fragmentation of the human body and depiction of isolated body parts is not only an important theme in the works of René Magritte, but also one that expresses the essence of Surrealism in general. It contains two concepts central to Surrealist art: that of desire and fetishism, as in the works of, amongst others, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, and that of threat and violence, such as in the early sculptures of Alberto Giacometti. Magritte’s use of such imagery and body parts, however, is rarely violent. Rather than evoking a mutilation of a human body, he uses its segments in the same way he would isolate a segment of a landscape or an object and place it in a different, unexpected environment.


In the present work, a sense of mystery and ambiguity is created by placing the oversized facial features – eye, nose and mouth – against a quiet, unidentifiable landscape dominated by a vast cloud-filled sky. By changing the context in which we are used to seeing these images, the artist challenges our ideas of the visible world and of the nature of art itself. A similar juxtaposition of body parts appears most famously in Le Viol, in which Magritte superimposed a woman’s facial features onto her torso. It was the image of the eye, however, that particularly fascinated Magritte (fig. 2) like many other Surrealist artists: Man Ray famously used a photograph of Lee Miller’s eye in his Indestructible Object; Picabia often depicted figures with multiple pairs of eyes in his ‘Monster’ paintings, and Luis Buñuel used it in the celebrated sequence in Un Chien Andalou. They all find their precursor in the sinister, mysterious works of Odilon Redon, such as his L’Œil, depicting an isolated eye. Furthermore, Redon’s celebrated image Œil-ballon (fig. 3) might even have provided the inspiration for the juxtaposition of the eye with the balloon.


One of the first appearances of the hot air balloon in Magritte’s painting was in the oil Quand l’heure sonnera of 1932 (fig. 4). He used this image again in a portrait of Harry Torczyner painted in 1958. In a letter to Torczyner of 26th July of that year, Magritte wrote: ‘I had first thought of a balloon […] doubtless with your air travels in mind. […] The archaic nature of the hot-air balloon (despite its relative youth – around 200 years?) sets it in the past, along with philosophical walks’ (quoted in H. Torczyner, op. cit., p. 140). In the present work, the juxtaposition of the balloon with a human eye brings to mind Magritte’s favourite theme – the paradox of the visible and invisible, as well as the complex subject of the gaze and the dynamic between spectator and object. The significance of this arresting image is reflected in the fact that it was chosen as the icon of the landmark Surrealist exhibition Two Private Eyes, held at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1999, featuring on the exhibition posters (fig. 1).


The iconography of the present composition has its roots in Magritte’s celebrated bowler-hatted man, an image that went through several metamorphoses in which the man’s head gradually disappeared, giving way to an impersonal assembly of its main parts. In Le paysage de Baucis of 1966 (fig. 4) the bust of a suited man is still present, however his head has disappeared, reduced to only the eyes, nose and mouth. In Les belles relations Magritte takes this idea a step further, eliminating the man’s suit and hat and reducing his presence to these facial components, looming large over a landscape. The artist strips away the figure’s identity even further by replacing one eye with the image of the balloon. The features that remain do not portray any particular individual, they are commonplace, generalised features that do not even reveal the gender of the figure. It is by combining the subject of a faceless modern man with the timeless and the unknowable, that Magritte questions our perception of reality and unveils the mystery hidden in everyday images.