- René Magritte
- Souvenir de voyage
- signed Magritte (lower left); signed Magritte and titled on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 41 by 33.3cm.
- 16 1/8 by 13 1/8 in.
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above. Sold: Sotheby’s, London, 8th February 2012, lot 18)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Brussels, Galerie Isy Brachot, Magritte, 1979, no. 52
Lausanne, Fondation de L'Hermitage, René Magritte, 1987, no. 110, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, René Magritte, 1987-88, no. 117, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Ferrara, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Palazzo dei Diamanti, René Magritte, 1989, no. 27
Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts, Magritte, 1996, no. 106, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
David Sylvester (ed.), Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1993, vol. III, no. 962, illustrated p. 373
Retrospective Magritte (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Art, Mitsukoshi, 1994-95, illustrated p. 27
Souvenir de voyage is a beautiful amalgamation of vital themes for the artist focusing on the image of a petrified apple. Of the variety of symbols so particular to Magritte's œuvre, the apple is one of the most iconic. Apples had played many roles in Magritte's mature paintings, from those superimposed against the face of the bowler-hatted man, to those mysteriously anthropomorphised with masks in La valse hésitation (fig. 1). Indeed the apple was an indicator of something other than itself and he iconicised its presence in these later works. In Souvenir de voyage, Magritte transforms the temporal substance of the apple into calcified stone, immortalising this theme into a remembrance.
Petrification served a more literal purpose in Magritte's paintings, as observed by the physicist Albert V. Baez: 'The force of gravity, which we dismiss as commonplace in our daily lives, becomes powerful and awesome here. We can step on an ordinary stone any day without giving it a second thought, but the stone in the paintings is compelling. The artist has made it extraordinary. It reminds us that all stones are extraordinary.' Magritte's own thoughts on the matter were more philosophical, likening the solid nature of the stone to the mental and physical constitution of the human being. For others, his paintings of the monolith were signifiers of time, place and permanence. 'I know of no painting that conveys so totally the sense of a universe in suspense, a universe in which everything is waiting and nothing moves' (Roger Shattuck, 'This is not René Magritte', in Art Forum, September 1966, p. 35).
Souvenir de voyage revolves around the conceptual relationship between day and night that figures so prominently in Magritte's most celebrated compositions - works such as the iconic L'Empire des lumières series and the poetic Le Seize Septembre (fig. 2). The delicate crescent moon that rises above the apple is subtly incongruous with the daylit sky. The evocation of night and day is precisely the sort of reconciliation of opposites prized by the Surrealists, as in, for example, the opening line of Breton's poem L'Aigrette: 'Si seulement il faisait du soleil cette nuit' ('If only the sun were to come out tonight'). But it is also a visual paradox typical of Magritte's art. He used this image to make the point that a painting does not express ideas but the power to create them. 'After I had painted L'Empire des lumières', he told a friend, 'I got the idea that night and day exist together, that they are one. This is reasonable, or at the very least it's in keeping with our knowledge: in the world, night always exists at the same time as day. (Just as sadness always exists in some people at the same time as happiness in others)' (quoted in Sarah Whitfield, Magritte (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London, 1992, note to no. 111).
Magritte assigns a title to the present work that appears elsewhere in his œuvre. Though its reference is enigmatic, it appears to relate to the process of petrification for the artist. The importance of Magritte's titles, usually invented by his writer friends, was underlined by David Sylvester when he wrote: 'Magritte shared the belief held by virtually all surrealist painters and sculptors that a work of his was not complete without a title – "a poetic title", meaning a title that was not directly descriptive but relevant obliquely and irrationally, a title that might be arrived at by free association. What is special about the poetry of Magritte's titles is that, as in his paintings, the language is not ornate or arcane: it is banal, neutral, plain' (D. Sylvester, Magritte, London, 1992, p. 233). With a subtle elegance particular to Magritte's post-war œuvre, Souvenir de voyage harmonises these central preoccupations for the artist.