Roger Vanthournout, Belgium (acquired by 2005)
Gallery Sakai, Tokyo
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2007
Paris, Musée Maillol - Fondation Dina Vierny, Magritte tout en papier, 2006, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Emile Langui, 'Grandeur et misère der Belgische verzetskunst', in Kroniek van kunst en kultuur, Amsterdam, 1st November 1945, illustrated p. 42 (as dating from 1941)
David Sylvester (ed.), Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, London, 1994, vol. IV, no. 1168, illustrated p. 48
Dating from 1942, Le grand matin combines several signature themes of Magritte’s œuvre. The paradoxical image of a door that is at once open and closed was first used in La réponse imprévue of 1933 (fig. 1), and originated in the artist’s newly developed method: that of establishing a ‘problem’ and finding a ‘solution’ to it. ‘The problem of the door called for an opening one could pass through. In La réponse inprévue, I showed a closed door in a room; in the door an irregular-shaped opening revealed the night’ (R. Magritte, La Ligne de Vie, lecture of 20th November 1938). In the present work the door connects – or separates – interior and exterior settings and has a dual role of hiding and exposing what is behind it. By confronting these contrasted elements, Magritte evokes the essential surrealist paradigm of questioning the significance and purpose we attribute to various objects, and creating new meanings by placing these objects in new and unexpected contexts.
The enigmatic atmosphere of the present work is further emphasised by the notable absence of human beings. While the tight space of the interior contains no elements that would indicate man’s presence, the shape of the hole in the door and Magritte’s signature ‘bilboquet’ are reminiscent of a human form. Sharply delineated, both shapes can be traced back to the paper cut-outs that Magritte first developed in his early drawings and papiers collés of the 1920s. The hole opening onto an empty seascape and the pillar placed in front of it are subtly suggestive of a standing figure.
Le grand matin belongs to a series of compositions in gouache and oil from 1942, in which Magritte first developed the bird-leaf motif. The setting of the present work, however, distinguishes it from the others, which usually feature the birds in an open landscape or seascape reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson’s fabled Treasure Island – a title Magritte indeed adopted for several versions of this image (fig. 2). In the present gouache, the ambiguity of the birds is heightened by their placement in an indoor setting. According to the authors of the Catalogue raisonné, ‘This appears to be the only realization of an image which combines the sawn-through door of La réponse imprévue [fig. 1], 1933, and the leaf-birds which are found in several works of 1942’ (D. Sylvester (ed.) et al., op. cit., p. 48).
Magritte’s art is renowned for its use of ‘elective affinities’, a term used by Goethe to describe the idea of pairing two distinct elements. In the present composition, such a pairing exists between the birds and the leaves which stem from the same root and are inextricably connected. Discussing another 1942 gouache from this group, Jacques Meuris commented: ‘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 […] 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).
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