Lot 2
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RENÉ MAGRITTE | La Saveur des larmes

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
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  • René Magritte
  • La Saveur des larmes
  • Signed Magritte (lower right)
  • Gouache on paper
  • 17 7/8 by 14 1/8 in.
  • 45.5 by 36 cm
  • Executed circa 1951.


Émilienne Moorkens, Brussels (a wedding gift from the artist in 1952) 

Private Collection, Belgium (by descent from the above and sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 5, 2009, lot 34)

Acquired at the above sale


Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny & Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Magritte tout en papier, 2006, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue


Sarah Whitfield, ed., René Magritte, Newly Discovered Works, Catalogue raisonné, vol. VI, Brussels, 2012, no. 21, illustrated in color p. 37

Catalogue Note

A majestic testament to Magritte’s iconic imagery, La Saveur des larmes combines a number of recurring motifs within Magritte's oeuvre. Present at the fore of the work is the combined imagery of the bird-leaf, and the partially-eaten plant with caterpillar. The latter image first appears in a gouache dated to 1938 or 1939 (S.1150), named La Saveur des larmes by Magritte’s friend and fellow Belgian Surrealist Paul Nougé, and featuring a large, bug-eaten tree-leaf with a house set quietly in the distance. The hybrid bird-leaf motif was first incorporated into the image of the hole-riddled plant in a gouache of the same title created in 1946 (S.1217). Executed circa 1951, the present iteration combines Magritte’s hallmark themes in such a way as to engender several contradictions, juxtaposing the plant and animal world in one image, and presenting a setting that is at the same time an interior and a seascape, as seen in earlier works like Le Grand matin (see fig. 1).By combining the idyllic setting of an island with a more sinister scene of consumption and decay, Magritte transports the viewer to a confounding and dreamlike realm which challenges the perception of recognizable objects. As André Breton wrote as an introduction to Magritte’s groundbreaking 1964 exhibition in the United States: “Those objects—the most familiar—are we not overlooking them…when we confine them strictly to their utilitarian role? Yet if we pass on to another frame of reference, it is certain (and psycho-analysis gives ample evidence of this) that most of these same familiar objects contribute to the symbolic elaboration which furnished the stuff of dreams.” Magritte, who was closely associated with the French Surrealist circle during the late 1920s and 30s, deviated from his peers Breton, Dalí and Ernst in his rejection of the automatic practices exalted by his contemporaries, favoring instead the purposeful and philosophical subversion of the common image. His conceptual prowess and precise play of imagery is echoed by a fastidious artistic technique, most notably found in his gouaches which display exquisite craftsmanship and an unparalleled clarity of color.

The present work is closest in composition to two almost identical oils of the same title from 1948, now belonging to the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels (see fig. 2) and The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham. Writing about these paintings Jacques Meuris commented: "With Flavor of Tears Magritte abandoned his 'vache' period and went back to his usual style. At the same time he developed the idea contained in certain paintings of 1942, including Treasure Island [see fig. 3] and a gouache entitled Natural Graces. That was where he had created the new figures that were to inhabit several subsequent works, the birds-become-plants belonging to both animal and vegetable kingdoms. These pigeons or doves in the form of spear-shaped leaves are shown in settings that are sometimes more than a little romantic (Treasure Island has an atmosphere reminiscent of certain Caspar David Friedrich paintings) or more usually in close-up, like strange botanical illustrations. As Paul Colinet wrote, we are here at the very heart of Magritte's 'enchanted world,' a world disencumbered of the apparatus of shock or fear" (J. Meuris, René Magritte, London, 1988, p. 122).