Lot 12
  • 12

René Magritte

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • René Magritte
  • La Réponse imprévue
  • Signed Magritte (upper right)
  • Gouache on paper
  • 21 5/8 by 14 in.
  • 54.9 by 35.5 cm


Alexandre Iolas, Paris (acquired from the artist)

Mario Tazzoli, Milan (acquired from the above in 1964)

Galerie Brusberg, Berlin

Private Collection (acquired from the above in the 1970s)

La Boetie, New York 

Acquired from the above


London, Hanover Gallery, René Magritte, 1964, no. 29

Paris, Galerie Alexandre Iolas, Magritte: le sens propre, 1964, no. 34


Qui Arte contemporanea, Rome, March 1969, illustrated p. 13

David Sylvester, Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, eds., René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collées 1918-1967, London, 1994, vol. IV, no. 1550, illustrated p. 266

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1963-64, La Réponse imprévue explores one of the recurrent images of Magritte's oeuvre, that of a closed door broken by a hole. This device is deliberately ambiguous, both suggestive of a physical body passing through the empty space, while the imagery is devoid of human presence. At the heart of this work lies the paradox of the open/closed door where the composition shows an interior as well as an exterior, the door is closed as well as open, it has a dual role of hiding and exposing what is behind it. In this way, Magritte mystifies the familiar, questioning the significance and purpose we attribute to various objects, and creating new meanings by placing these objects in new and unexpected contexts. The mysterious atmosphere of the present work is further emphasized by the notable absence of human beings. While the unpopulated room contains no elements that would indicate man's presence, the hole in the door, though of an undefined shape, is suggestive of a human form. The sharp-edged shape of the opening can be traced back to the paper cut-outs that Magritte first developed in his early drawings and papiers collés of the 1920s.

The present work is a near exact copy of a 1933 oil of the same title, La Réponse imprévue now in the permanent collection of the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. In other variations on this theme, Magritte placed different objects behind the door such as a nocturnal sky, a monochrome black plane or a complex seascape with a tree-leaf and a house. The present work, however, has a simplicity characteristic of Magritte's later work, focusing on a single object or idea. The interior of the room is reduced to the basic elements, the plain wall, simple brown door and hardwood floor, while the scenery seen through the door consists of ominous darkness. Having experimented with a large number of images in his earlier works, in his mature years Magritte arrived at a simplicity and purity that allowed him to focus on a particular idea, thus creating a stronger impact on the viewer. As he explained in a letter to André Bosmans: 'If a simple image is willfully complicated, it is more the result of a concern for fantasy than of a freedom attentive to a real and irreducible complexity. Thus, a door with an opening hollowed out to allow one to go in and out is at once simple and complex. It's out of the question to complicate this image with an overburden of unimportant events merely for the sake of fulfilling some puerile fantasy” (R. Magritte, Letter to André Bosmans, January 2, 1964).