Lot 20
  • 20

René Magritte

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
941,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • René Magritte
  • Les Nouvelles années
  • signed Magritte (upper right); titled on the reverse
  • gouache on paper
  • 50 by 62cm.
  • 19 3/4 by 24 3/8 in.


Gilbert Sénécaut, Antwerp (probably acquired from the artist)

Leo Dohmen, Antwerp (acquired from the above)

Renée Lachowsky, Brussels (acquired by 1967)

Jacques Massart, Brussels (1991)

Ronny Van de Velde, Antwerp

Private Collection, Belgium (acquired from the above)

Acquired by the present owner by 1999


Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, René Magritte: het mysterie van de werkelijkheid / la mystère de la réalité, 1967, no. 98

Verona, Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Da Magritte a Magritte, 1991, no. 72, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (as dating from 1950)

Knokke, Casino, Magritte, 2001, no. 21, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Marcel Mariën (ed.), La Terre n'est pas une vallée de larmes, Brussels, 1945, illustrated after p. 40

David Sylvester (ed.), Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte. Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1994, vol. IV, no. 1177, illustrated p. 53

Robert Hughes, The Portable Magritte, New York, 2002, illustrated in colour p. 216 

Catalogue Note

Combining some of Magritte’s best-known motifs, Les Nouvelles années exemplifies his ongoing engagement with the Surrealist interrogation and transformation of the object. The iconography of a large leaf has its origin in Magritte’s hybrid tree-leaf which first appeared in the 1935 oil titled La Géante and would recur in his painting over the following decades in a variety of different contexts. In a letter to André Breton of July 1934, in which he wrote about paintings he was developing as ‘solutions’ to various ‘problems’, Magritte commented about the problem of the tree: ‘I am trying at the moment to discover what it is in a tree that belongs to it specifically but which would run counter to our concept of a tree’ (quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), op. cit., vol. II, p. 194). He soon found the answer to this question in the image of the tree-leaf: ‘the tree, as the subject of a problem, became a large leaf the stem of which was a trunk directly planted in the ground’ (ibid., p. 194).

As with a number of his favourite motifs, Magritte later revisited the concept, transforming it from a summery scene with a tree in full leaf to the bare branches of a tree in winter. This incarnation of the tree-leaf first appeared in a series of three paintings that Magritte worked on in 1940 and which he described as ‘a leafless tree (in winter) but with branches that provide the shape of a leaf, a Leaf even so!’ (ibid., p. 282). In Les Nouvelles années Magritte presents this image as one of three different incarnations – a tree, a tree-leaf, and a bilboquet-as-tree – that occupy the same pictorial plane so as to imply a gradual process of metamorphosis. The bilboquet – a totemic figure in Magritte’s œuvre – was first placed in a role analogous to a tree or plant in the pivotal series of works titled Le Jockey perdu. In the present work it is imbued with a latent anthropomorphism, turning towards its neighbouring tree as though in conversation.

In the interaction and interrelatedness of these objects, the present work offers a delicate and nuanced exploration of their inherent qualities and represents an important development in Magritte’s work. As his fellow-Surrealist Paul Nougé explained in 1933, for Magritte, the significance of an object and the way he analysed it had changed: ‘[its] importance can no longer be demonstrated by isolating the object, by removing it from its usual surroundings, or by any similar procedure. The aim is to make contact with the object itself, and to do so in such a way that a kind of enrichment results. It is in this way that Magritte starts to examine an egg, a door, our gaze, the light, a leaf, a mountain, a house, our hunger, our face, our love’ (P. Nougé, quoted in Magritte (exhibition catalogue), The Hayward Galley, London, 1992-93, p. 38).