A missing piece of a famous - but seemingly long-lost - painting by multi-million pound artist René Magritte was found last year hidden underneath another piece of work, right here in Norwich!
Image: Upside-down x-ray of NMS’ La Condition Humaine, clearly showing, on the left, the legs and hand of a woman and the base of a column,with the lines artificially highlighted to show the original painting more clearly © Norfolk Museums Service
René Magritte was a celebrated Belgian artist who created surrealist and impressionist artwork; his work often featured familiar objects and shapes in unusual settings or arrangements. They were often thought-provoking and witty, and aimed to challenge the viewer’s perception of reality. Some of Magritte’s more famous pieces are Le Fils de L'Homme (The Son of Man) painted in 1964, Le faux miroir (The False Mirror) created in 1928, and Les Mystères de l'Horizon (The Mysteries of the Horizon) in 1955. L'Empire des Lumieres (The Empire of Light), which Magritte painted in 1952, sold at Christie’s for an impressive $11.5 million in May 2002 - the highest price paid for his work to date.
Image: René Magritte 1898-1967 - La Condition Humaine, 1935 - Oil on canvas, 54 x 73 cm - NWHCM : 1995.88.2 © ADAGP, Paris
In 1927 Magritte exhibited a large piece of work entitled La Pose enchantée – two female nudes, after which the painting seemingly disappeared. Seemingly, as incredibly the missing artwork was re-discovered in 2013, however now in two pieces – one in the United States and the other in Sweden. The suggestion is that Magritte needed canvases for new works and so quartered La Pose enchantée (The Enchanted Pose) before painting over the canvas to make four new paintings.
And here is where Norwich comes into the story: in 2016, whilst working on a Magritte owned by Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, conservator Alice Tavares da Silva discovered a third missing quarter from La Pose enchantée! Alice had been examining Magritte’s La Condition humaine (The Human Condition) as it was being prepared for loan to a major Magritte retrospective exhibition held at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. After closer inspection, including x-rays and further analysis of the painting, it was discovered that La Condition humaine really was part of La Pose enchantée.
Funnily enough, La Condition humaine is actually a painting within a painting itself. It features a mountain scene with an easel standing in the forefront, on which sits a painting of the same mountains behind.
Image: Curator of Historic Art at Norwich Castle, Giorgia Bottinelli (left) and conservator, Alice Tavares da Silva, examine Magritte's La Condition Humaine, © Norfolk Museums Service
As well as La Condition humaine, the other two re-discovered pieces were painted over by Le Portrait (The Portrait), featuring a table set for a meal and an eye sitting on top of a slice of ham (currently hanging in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and underneath La Modèle rouge (The Red Model), which shows human feet in place of a pair of shoes (currently hanging in the Moderna Museet in Stockholm).
The whereabouts of the fourth and final quarter is still unknown – the search continues!
La Condition humaine has just been exhibited as part of a major retrospective of René Magritte’s work, called La trahison des images, at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and since has travelled to the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, where it will remains until 5 June 2017.
Following Frankfurt, La Condition humaine will return to its home at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery in July, where the painting will displayed there for the first time since 2012 - make sure you plan a visit this summer to see this amazing piece of art history, right here in Norwich!
In recognition of the incredible Norwich find of La Pose enchantée underneath La Condition humaine, Norwich Castle is presenting a number of co-ordinated events including a lecture about all the amazing Magritte discoveries, given by Dr Giorgia Bottinelli, the Curator of Historic Art at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, along with freelance conservator Alice Tavares da Silva and Museum of Modern Art’s Michael Duffy. The lecture is currently planned for mid-July 2017 but stay tuned for further updates as we learn of them!
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