Lot 17
  • 17

RENÉ MAGRITTE | La magie noire

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • René Magritte
  • La magie noire
  • signed Magritte (lower left); titled, dated 1946 and inscribed 25P on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 81 by 60cm.
  • 31 7/8 by 23 5/8 in.
  • Painted in 1946.


Raymond Magritte, Belgium (the artist's brother; acquired from the artist) Arlette Magritte (daughter of the above, by descent. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 3rd November 1993, lot 52)

Private Collection, Belgium (purchased at the above sale)

Private Collection (acquired in 2001. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 3rd November 2008, lot 64)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Paris, Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, Hommage à Magritte, 1984-85, no. 42 (with incorrect medium) Tokyo, Mitsukoshi Museum of Art; Hyogo, Museum of Modern Art & Fukuoka, Art Museum, Retrospective Magritte, 1994-95, no. 33, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


David Sylvester (ed.) & Sarah Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, London, 1993, vol. II, no. 602, illustrated p. 367 David Sylvester (ed.), Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, Supplement, London, 1997, vol. V, no. 602, illustrated p. 35

Catalogue Note

La magie noire of 1946 is one of the purest and most elegant examples of the now-celebrated theme that preoccupied Magritte in the 1940s, that of a female nude in an unidentified landscape. The model for this series was the artist's wife Georgette Berger and her image is depicted in a classical manner, abiding by the laws of conventional beauty and proportion, resembling a marble sculpture or a mythical figure as much as a live model. This traditional representation, however, is juxtaposed with the unexpected colouration of the figure, whose upper body gradually acquires the tone of the sky behind her. In nearly all paintings from this group, the woman has one hand resting on a block of stone. As Magritte explained: ‘One idea is that stone is associated with an “attachment” to the earth. It does not rise up of its own accord; you can rely on its remaining faithful to the earth’s attraction. Woman, too, if you like. From another point of view the hard existence of stone […] and the mental and physical system of a human being are not unconnected’ (quoted in Jacques Meuris, René Magritte, London, 1988, p. 76).  

In depicting the nude according to the classical ideals of beauty, Magritte transforms Georgette’s image into a modern-day Venus. Depicted either with her eyes closed, or with her head turned away from the viewer or, as in the present work, with blank eyes resembling those of a marble sculpture, the nude becomes the passive object of the spectator’s gaze and erotic desire. ‘Magritte said, in fact, that an undercurrent of eroticism was one of the reasons a painting might have for existing. It asserted itself most intensely and explicitly in these stately classical nudes with their cool coloring. For the very reason that it aims at maximum resemblance, their academicism is upset by the provocation of mystery emanating from that identification, once the painting and the arrangement of the painting interfere with its course. The prime example is Black Magic’ (ibid., p. 76).


The subject of this work became one of Magritte’s favourite images in the 1940s, and he used it in several oils and works on paper. He varied the position of the nude, depicting her frontally or in profile, sometimes holding a rose, and other times, as in the present work, with a dove resting on her shoulder. While Magritte gave these pictures various titles, the one most often used is La magie noire, which was found, as was often the case, by Paul Nougé, a Belgian poet and friend of Magritte’s. Writing about Magritte’s first painting on the theme of Black Magic, executed in 1934 (D. Sylvester, op. cit., vol. II, no. 355), David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield wrote: ‘Those pretty colours serve an image-making as well as a decorative purpose: the top half of the nude is painted a gradated blue, near enough that of the sky behind; from the waist down, the colour is a flesh tone. It is a process of metamorphosis. “Black magic. It is an act of black magic to turn woman’s flesh into sky”’ (ibid., vol. II, p. 187).


Writing about various versions on these theme in Magritte’s art, the authors of the Catalogue Raisonné have commented: ‘The changes had been constantly rung on whether the nude was seen frontally or in profile, whether her eyes were open or shut, whether or not there was a dove on her shoulder, a rose in her hand, sea in the background, a broken wall to one side, and whether or not her body was two toned. […] in any version that was called “La magie noire” the body was invariably two-toned, touched by that act of black magic transformation of flesh into sky’ (ibid., p. 188).


According to the authors of the Catalogue raisonné, the present work was acquired by the artist’s brother Raymond Magritte soon after its execution. Unlike his artistically minded siblings René and Paul, Raymond was a successful businessman, and often supported René by buying his pictures, particularly in the early stages of his career. After Raymond’s death in 1970, La magie noire was inherited by his daughter Arlette, Magritte’s niece, and stayed in her collection until 1993 when she sold it at auction at Sotheby’s New York.