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Details & Cataloguing

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René Magritte
1898 - 1967
L'INCORRUPTIBLE
signed Magritte (lower right); signed Magritte and dated 1940 (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
54,4 x 73,2 cm; 21 3/8 x 28 7/8 in.
Painted in 1940.
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Provenance

Lou Cosyn (acquired directly from the artist)
Private collection, Antwerp (acquired from the above circa 1955-60)
Acquired from the above via Dickinson Gallery by the present owner in 2012

Exhibited

Brussels, Galerie Dietrich, Exposition René Magritte, 1941, no. 3
Charleroi, Salle de Bourse, XXXе Salon du Cercle Royal Artistique et Littéraire de Charleroi, including Rétrospective Réne Magritte, 1956, no. 85
Liège, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Exposition Magritte, 1960, no. 70

Literature

Paul Fierens, L’Art en Belgique du Moyen-Age à nos jours, Brussels, 1947, illustrated p. 527
René Magritte, "Letters à Paul Nouge", in Le Fait accompli, Brussels, November 1974, illustrated
David Sylvester & Sarah Whitfield, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné II: Oil Paintings and Objects 1931-1948, Antwerp, 1993, no. 477, illustrated p. 279

Catalogue Note

“Magritte prefers a beautiful woman to a beautiful statue and a beautiful statue to a beautiful woman.”
Louis Scutenaire, 1942

Painted in grey in 1940, L’Incorruptible is particularly revealing of Magritte’s state of mind at the very beginning of the war. The year was marked by loneliness and anxiety with the departure of many of his Surrealist friends to the front lines, including Paul Nougé, Camille Goemans, Marcel Lecomte and Marcel Mariën. In the aftermath of the German invasion of Belgium on 19 May 1940, Magritte fled to France, along with the couples Louis Scutenaire and Irène Hamoir, and Raoul and Agui Ubac. They met in Carcassonne through the poet Joë Bousquet, along with the Parisian intelligentsia. This period of exile, which Magritte ended in August, was particularly gloomy for the Belgian painter, who had no affinity with the French Surrealists. He wrote to Mariën: “I’m not bringing back good impressions of France. I am definitely a man of the North.”

Bearing witness to these troubled times, L’Incorruptible depicts the sculpted head of Georgette, the painter’s wife and muse, in a desolate landscape, echoing the artist’s torments. L’Incorruptible is one of the last works from the war that was painted using the refined technique and colours that had brought him success from the 1930s on. It is also one of the last works where the reference to the war is barely concealed; the landscape depicted is reminiscent of devastated battlefields devoid of life. From 1941, Magritte marked his opposition to the war with radically different works. Abandoning the atmosphere of anxious quietude, he wrote in December 1941 to Paul Eluard that he now wanted to represent the “beautiful side of life.” This new aspiration would lead to colourful works with hints of Impressionism, which he called his “solar period”. Paradoxically, his opposition to the war manifested itself in paintings often derided by critics, which featured light-hearted subjects and bright colours, as if the painter were trying to cut himself off from the reality around him. Georgette’s beautiful face, here frozen in a disturbing stillness, would then reappear in full colour.

The iconic figure of the female statue depicted here most certainly can be traced back to Giorgio de Chirico’s painting Le Chant d’amour, which Magritte discovered in 1923 through a reproduction. The painting features in particular the plaster cast of the Belvedere Apollo whose beauty astonished Magritte: “My eyes have seen the thought for the first time”. He wrote on this occasion, “I understood that I had finally found what to paint and stuck to it. My painting has not changed direction.” In the words of Louis Scutenaire, this painting can be considered to have played the role of a “detonator in the Magrittean explosion” giving rise to a world full of marble statues of women frozen for eternity, structured through curtains like in a theatrical scene.

From then on, in Magritte’s work, the human figure became an object like any other and took on a disconcerting, unsettling stillness. It is the same stone face with blind eyes that would be depicted in many other major paintings such as Le Miroir universel in 1938 and Les eaux profondes in 1941, foreshadowing the petrified paintings that Magritte would paint in the 1950s, which would form one of the most important bodies of work in the post-war period.

Modernités

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Paris