RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967) Torse nu dans les nuages 28 11/16 x 23 11/16 in (72.8 x 60.2 cm) (Painted circa 1937)

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Lot 6
Torse nu dans les nuages

Sold for US$ 9,978,312 inc. premium
RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
Torse nu dans les nuages
signed 'Magritte' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 11/16 x 23 11/16 in (72.8 x 60.2 cm)
Painted circa 1937


  • The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Comité Magritte.

    Copley Galleries, Beverly Hills, no. 1007 (by September 1948).
    Esther Robles Gallery, Los Angeles.
    Amalia de Schulthess Collection, Santa Monica (possibly acquired from the above in the mid-1950s).
    Thence by descent to the present owners.

    Beverly Hills, Copley Galleries, Magritte, September 9–29, 1948, no. 30.

    Torse nu dans les nuages (circa 1937) is a significant painting within René Magritte's oeuvre, exemplary of his early Surrealist period. This extraordinary oil has remained in the private collection of Amalia de Schulthess for over seven decades; it was last exhibited in Magritte's inaugural solo show at the Copley Galleries in Los Angeles in 1948, prior to De Schulthess' acquisition of the work.

    Magritte explored a multiplicity of stylistic movements throughout the arc of his artistic practice, ranging from Futurism and Cubism to his Renoir and Vache periods. However, his most important contribution to the canon of modern art is widely considered to be the corpus of Surrealist artworks created from the late 1920s through the decade of the 1930s, and following World War II through the 1960s.

    In 1926, Magritte adopted a figurative style, and produced his first Surrealist painting, Le jockey perdu. His first solo show was held the following year at Galerie Le Centaure, Brussels. The negative critical reception of this exhibition motivated Magritte to move to Paris in September 1927 to situate himself in proximity to the principal French Surrealist group; he would remain in the City of Lights for three years.

    Magritte developed a close friendship with André Breton, and became a leading member of the Surrealist group. In 1929, Magritte exhibited his work at Goemans Gallery, Paris alongside Jean Arp, Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso, and Yves Tanguy. At the end of the same year, Magritte participated in the twelfth and final edition of La Révolution Surréaliste, in which he published his essay "Les mots et les images," a seminal text elucidating the concept of the artifice of language and imagery underpinning The Treachery of Images, painted by Magritte in the same year.

    During the 1930s, Surrealism reached its height of influence over avant-garde Europe. Torse nu dans les nuages was painted towards the end of this decade, when Magritte himself was gaining prominence. In 1936, Magritte's first solo exhibition in the United States was organized by the Julien Levy Gallery in New York, and the London Gallery presented an exhibition of Magritte's work in 1938. The following decade, in 1948, he returned to the Surrealist themes that he had explored and established during the pre-war period. Magritte would continue to depict archetypal Surrealist motifs in his hallmark deadpan style, his compositions rife with irony and conviction, philosophy and fantasy.

    "I don't paint ideas," Magritte said, "I describe, in so far as I can, by means of painted images, objects and the coming together of objects, in such a light as to prevent any of our ideas or feelings from adhering to them. It is essential not to confuse or compare these objects, these connections or encounters between objects, with any 'expressions' or 'illustrations' or 'compositions'. The latter would seem to dissipate all mystery, whereas the description that I paint does not reveal to the mind what it is that might cause objects to appear, or what might connect them or make them fall in with each other" (René Magritte quoted in S. Gablik, Magritte, London, 1970, p. 13).

    Magritte's Surrealist oeuvre prompts the viewer to question visual tools and habits they use to perceive and interpret not just pictures but also the spatial reality of the world around them. Torse nu dans les nuages is emblematic of Magritte's conceptual framework and includes juxtapositions of several of his most recognizable symbols.

    The fragmented female torso was one of Magritte's central motifs; he featured it in a variety of ways in a range of diverse compositions starting as early as 1932. He acquired a plaster cast of a nude torso, a readily available artist's tool frequently utilized by art college pupils to practice their draughtsmanship of the human form. Adding a layer of complexity, the torso Magritte depicts in many of his paintings was actually cast from life rather than a classical sculpture. It is likely he purchased it from Maison Berger, Brussels, a shop owned by his sister-in-law where he ordinarily bought all his art supplies.

    The white plaster cast of a female nude torso is included in a number of works by Magritte, including La belle de nuit and Quand l'heure sonnera (both executed in 1932), and La lumière des coincidences (1933). Concurrently, Magritte researched ancient Greco-Roman statues of female nudes and created paintings and sculptures such as La statue volante (1932-1933) and Les menottes de cuivre (1931) that focused on these classical examples of fragmented statuary. In addition to drawing inspiration from antique sculpture and contemporary anatomical casts, Magritte also enlisted his wife Georgette Berger as a life model for several paintings.

    The truncated form of the nude torso remains just beyond the realm of identification: is it a painted object, a carved sculpture, or a fictional illusion? Magritte stated, "For me, the conception of a picture is an idea of one thing or of several things which can be realized visually in my painting. Obviously, all ideas are not ideas for paintings. Naturally, an idea must be sufficiently stimulating for me to get down to painting the thing or things that inspired the idea. The conception of a painting, that is, the idea, is not visible in the painting: an idea cannot be seen by the eyes. What is depicted in the painting is what is visible to the eye, the thing or things that had to inspire the idea" (René Magritte quoted in K. Rooney & E. Plattner, (eds)., René Magritte: Selected Writings, Minneapolis, 2016, p. 167).

    The plaster torso allowed Magritte to play with notions of veracity, forcing the viewer to question what is imagined and what is real within a scene. The Renaissance concept of paragone – using one medium such as painting to create a skillful facsimile of another such as sculpture, in order to assert the superiority of the medium being utilized – is deftly reworked by Magritte. He dissolves the simulacrum by entirely metamorphosing the subject matter. Magritte's Surrealist alchemy has transfigured the flesh – or plaster? or marble? – into azure ocean and sky.

    While artistic movements of the mid-twentieth century, such as Abstract Expressionism, were emphasizing "flatness" and the paint itself (examined and championed by art historian Clement Greenberg), Magritte challenged perceptions of reality. He presented mysterious narratives often constructed by depicting banal objects in surprising and unusual contexts and employing abstruse perspective.

    The central focus of Torse nu dans les nuages is the fragment of the nude female torso, placed like a painted maquette atop a table in the artist's studio with a black cloth backdrop behind it. The setting may refer to the atelier, but the ochre and black planes also resemble a theatre stage. The nude figure contains a seascape of ocean and sky; clouds – a favorite motif of Magritte – float in space and encircle the fragmented torso. These clouds are both intruders and a continuation of the body's maritime scene. The strange and otherworldly Torse nu dans les nuages is a pictorial puzzle that reconfigures expectations and offers an alternative representation of reality.

    This exceptional painting also carries an impeccable provenance. The esteemed painter William Copley was introduced to Surrealism by his brother-in-law John Ployardt, an artist who worked for Disney. "Surrealism," wrote Copley, "made everything understandable: my genteel family, the war, and why I attended the Yale Prom without my shoes. It looked like something I might succeed at" (William Copley quoted in 'Portrait of an Artist as a Young Dealer' in William N. Copley: X-Rated, New York, 2010, p. 67).

    Copley and Ployardt opened the Copley Galleries in Los Angeles in September 1948 with an exhibition of more than 30 paintings by Magritte, which, according to Copley, was "all thanks to [Alexander] Iolas" (William Copley quoted in "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Dealer," in William N. Copley Selected Writings, Cologne, 2020, p. 74). The catalogue of the Copley Galleries' Magritte show lists seventeen oils and twelve gouaches, and eleven of these oils had been included in the 1948 New York Hugo Gallery exhibition; the other six oils were paintings which Claude Spaak had on consignment with Iolas. Copley Galleries was a unique platform on the West Coast showcasing Surrealist art of great importance. Unfortunately, the gallery closed within six months of having opened, only selling two paintings by Magritte during that time.

    Torse nu dans les nuages was shown at the Copley Galleries as number 30. It was featured prominently and creatively; emphasizing the Surrealist themes of reality versus illusion and uncanny spatial perception, the painting was hung on a wall of the gallery within a purpose-built surround simulating the frame and sill of a window. This display strategy not only ensured that the work was visually isolated and highlighted among over two dozen paintings, but by specifically employing mock fenestration rather than plain linear wall moldings or other conventional decorative devices, the gallery visitor was encouraged to bring Surrealist whimsy of the unexpected and incongruous to their total experience.

    The present work was subsequently sold through Esther Robles Gallery, Los Angeles to Amalia de Schulthess. Robles represented De Schulthess as an artist in her own right, having mounted solo exhibitions of her work in 1956 and 1962. The duality of De Schulthess' position in the art world as both collector and artist neatly intersects in this episode, and illustrates her richly intertwined connections within the art world.

    Torse nu dans les nuages by René Magritte is a Surrealist masterpiece, an iconic meditation on the complex nature of spatial and perceptual experience, which has been cherished as a keystone of Amalia de Schulthess' private collection for decades.

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RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967) Torse nu dans les nuages 28 11/16 x 23 11/16 in (72.8 x 60.2 cm) (Painted circa 1937)
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