RENÉ MAGRITTELe jockey perdu
- René Magritte
- Le jockey perdu
- signed Magritte (lower left); signed Magritte, titled and dated 1947 on the reverse
- gouache on paper
William N. Copley, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above in April 1948)
Stanley N. Barbee, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 11th November 1959, lot 51)
William N. Copley, Beverly Hills
Thence by descent to the present owner
Beverly Hills, Copley Galleries, Magritte, 1948, no. 12
New York, Paul Kasmin Gallery, Alexander The Great: The Iolas Gallery 1955-1987, 2014, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Letter from Magritte to Alexander Iolas, 23rd February 1948
Letter from Magritte to Alexander Iolas, 11th March 1948
Letter from Alexander Iolas to Magritte, 5th March 1950
David Sylvester (ed.), Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, London, 1994, vol. IV, no. 1253, illustrated p. 98 (as dating from 1948)
Le jockey perdu is an exquisite gouache from one of the artist's most riveting series. Magritte first created the image of the 'lost jockey' in a papier collé dating from 1926, which was in the collection of Magritte’s great patron Harry Torczyner. The collage was, according to Magritte, quickly followed by an oil of the same title which was painted in the same year, and headlined the artist’s first one-man exhibition held in 1927 at Galerie Le Centaure in Brussels. Evidently pleased with this motif, Magritte used the image of the lost jockey in a number of gouaches and oils throughout his career – this appears to be the first image he chose to repeat in another medium, and is now recognised as one of his most iconic subjects.
Writing about the 1926 oil version of Le jockey perdu, David Sylvester commented: ‘it was seen from the very start as something special – and not just by the artist. A few months after it was realized it became the first of his Surrealist paintings to be reproduced – and the first of any of his paintings to be reproduced abroad – when it represented his work in an article by Camille Goemans published on 1 September 1926’ (D. Sylvester (ed.), op. cit., vol. I, p. 169). By the time he executed the present gouache – either at the end of 1947 or early 1948 – Magritte had established the objects such as ‘bilboquets’ and curtains as key elements of his pictorial language.
Le jockey perdu presents a juxtaposition of opposites – the paradox of concealing and revealing, the contrast between breakneck speed of the horse and rider and the stillness of their surroundings, and the overlay of interior and exterior settings. Magritte's imagery often thrived on these visual paradoxes and his choice of title here amplifies the effect. While Magritte resisted giving literal titles to his works, here the jockey clearly has found himself in a strange landscape; his apparent eagerness is rendered absurd by the fact that he is frozen in an unreal, theatrical setting he does not belong to. The gigantic ‘bilboquets’ have been transformed into tree trunks and, with their sumptuous leafage, they form an impressive tree alley. The neat arrangement of these objects, coupled with the curtain that frames the composition, gives the viewer the impression of looking at a theatrical stage set.
Jacques Meuris wrote about Magritte’s use of curtains in his compositions: ‘From the very earliest canvases, once Magritte knew what he was doing, drapes were a repeated feature. They appear in both Blue Cinema (1925) and The Lost Jockey (1926), for example. One way of looking at them is as a technical device. They are usually shown with loops, giving them the appearance of open stage drapes, and they enable the artist, through a process of optical illusion, to locate the planes of his image within the pictorial space. Another way of looking at these drapes is as a way of suggesting the fallacious (misleading) nature of the painted picture in relation to what it actually represents. Hence the idea of the stage set, to which the drapes lend emphasis’ (J. Meuris, Magritte, London, 1988, p. 169).
Harry Torczyner, who once owned the papier collé version of Le jockey perdu, asked Magritte about the origin of the image and later recounted: ‘he explained to me that he was in the habit of visiting race-courses at a time when balustrades and bilboquets were already part of his painter’s vocabulary’ (quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), op. cit., vol. IV, p. 295). The authors of the Catalogue Raisonné also argue that the image may well have been inspired by the fifteenth-century masterpiece The Hunt in the Forest by Paolo Uccello, who was the Surrealist artists’ preferred old master and of particular interest to Magritte during his formative years. Siegfried Gohr further elaborates on this point:
‘If Magritte’s visual idea seems modern and provocative, its possible source is all the more surprising: a work by the Florentine Renaissance painter Paolo Uccello. Around 1468, Uccello created an extended horizontal format called Hunt in the Forest […]. A company, carefully grouped in accordance with the rules of perspective, is riding through artfully arranged woods, just as The Lost Jockey is doing in modified form. Apart from the fact that this Florentine artist was the only Old Master mentioned by Breton in the Surrealist Manifesto, Magritte was likely to have been perfectly familiar with Uccello’s art and that of his period. During the 1920s, many artists rediscovered Italian painting of the fifteenth century, leading to a new admiration not only of Uccello but of Piero della Francesca as major artists. […] As a result, after the phase of abstraction and Cubism a new approach to pictorial space entered painting, which now began to employ the perspective space of the Renaissance while fundamentally redefining it. Giorgio de Chirico led the way, and others followed – Max Ernst as much as Magritte. Magritte, for his part, emphasized the character of Renaissance space as a stage or theatre’ (S. Gohr, Magritte: Attempting the Impossible, New York, 2009, p. 85).
Le jockey perdu comes from the collection of William N. Copley (1919-1996), who was a patron and friend of René Magritte, as well as a philanthropist and an artist in his own right. Introduced to Surrealism in the 1940s, Copley embraced the freedom it offered, and through his fellow American Man Ray, he met Duchamp and other Surrealist artists. While his eponymous Copley Galleries in Beverly Hills was a short-lived venture – opening in 1948 and closing down the following year – it staged six now-legendary exhibitions of Magritte, Tanguy, Matta, Cornell, Man Ray and Ernst. It was also at this time that Copley started his magnificent collection of Surrealist art, which included masterpieces by Ernst, Man Ray and Magritte and Miró, among others. A part of his collection for sold at a two-day auction held at Sotheby Parke Bernet in New York in November 1979. Magritte’s Le jockey perdu, included in Copley’s 1948 exhibition, is now offered for sale by a member of his family.