Galerie Le Centaure, Brussels (acquired from the above in 1929)
Edouard-Léon-Théodore Mesens, Brussels (acquired from the above in 1932-33)
Marc Hendrickx, Brussels (acquired from the above in the late 1950s)
Mr & Mrs Leonard Horwich, Chicago (acquired in 1960)
Sale: Finarte, Milan, 13th-16th May 1968, lot 19
Private Collection, Europe (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 22nd June 2016, lot 322)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Chicago, Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, René Magritte, 1964, no. 6
René Magritte’s Les fenêtres de l'aube is an intriguing depiction of trompe l'œil handkerchiefs inexplicably positioned above a pastoral landscape seen through a window or depicted in a postcard. Magritte’s idiosyncratic form of Surrealism emerged in the middle of the 1920s, following a short period of experimentation with Cubist and Futurist styles of painting. Unlike the Surrealist techniques adopted by Breton and his followers, who were primarily concerned with elucidating dream-like imagery and manifesting the sub-conscious, Magritte relied on the principles of collage, combining everyday objects in mysterious juxtapositions to pictorially represent his doubts about the nature of perception. The notion of a view through a window is one that Magritte would further develop over the following years and would eventually lead to his ‘discovery’ of the imagery depicted in compositions titled La condition humaine. A generic landscape, similar to the one seen in the present work, would become the subject of one of Magritte’s very first oils on this theme (fig. 1).
Marcel Lecomte, a Belgian poet active within the Dada and Surrealist groups and a lifelong friend of Magritte’s, astutely described the painter’s compositional technique in a text written in 1961: ‘The objects and figures in René Magritte’s paintings were never meant to exist collectively. They are always very strongly singled out, so that we feel their presence in a very concrete way, and it is extraordinary how this effect is produced even when, against all the evidence, objects are given other functions and other names. […] What event are they waiting for, unless it is that of the mystery of their meeting on the same canvas, the mystery of their close, combined identity?’ (M. Lecomte quoted in Sarah Whitfield, Magritte (exhibition catalogue), The Hayward Gallery, London, 1992, p. 37). In the present work, the objects and landscape possess an enigmatic autonomy as they are suspended in space. An acute tension is created between the flat plane of the dark canvas and the deep space of the landscape and the apparent three-dimensionality of the handkerchiefs, emphasising the mystery that Magritte expertly conjures in his works.
In 1920 Magritte was introduced to Edouard-Léon-Théodore Mesens by their mutual acquaintance, the Belgian artist Karel Maes at the first exhibition of the artist’s Cubo-Futurist work organised by the Centre d’Art in Brussels. Mesens was a man of numerous talents and occupations – a musician, poet, critic and gallerist – who was to become Magritte’s most vociferous supporter and promoter. In the mid-1920s Mesens and Magritte published the short-lived reviews Oesophage and Marie and contributed to the last edition of Francis Picabia’s Dadaist review 391. Having partly abandoned his musical career, Mesens set about selling and promoting avant-garde art, first at the Galerie Manteau and later at Paul-Gustave van Hecke’s Galerie L’Epoque in Brussels. Mesens and van Hecke became the principal dealers of Magritte’s work and they sold the present work to Galerie Le Centaure in 1929. Soon after, Galerie Le Centaure was forced to close and to liquidate its stock and Mesens was able to buy back a number of paintings for himself, including the present oil.
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