Magritte High on the List

On 15 January 2021, by Anne Doridou-Heim

The Belgian master cultivated mystery, making play with different levels of interpretation. Some famous American faces appeared beside him.

René Magritte (1898-1967), Head with Female Torso, c. 1941, gouache on paper, 14.6 x 10 cm (5.7 x 3.9 in). 
Result: €547,240

The program spanned the entire pictorial 20th century, fetching a total of €1,798,791. Top place at €547,240 went to this small gouache (14.6 x 10 cm/5.7 x 3.9 in) by René Magritte (1898-1967). This Head with Female Torso executed around 1941 by the Belgian Surrealist master is yet another work requiring keys in order to understand it. It depicts an inverted representation of the body, with the face in the place of the torso and vice versa. He had been developing this idea for several years, putting it on the cover of Breton's 1934 essay Qu'est-ce que le surréalisme? (What is Surrealism?, published by René Henriquez, Brussels), and in 1945 featured it in one of his most famous paintings, Le Viol (Rape) (Centre Pompidou, Paris). The visible and invisible are both present in this fragmented body recomposed into a singular visual alphabet—one that also often used apples, birds, clouds and bowler-hatted men. The point of this poetry was to convey the difficulty we have in making external reality coexist with the images in our minds. Magritte put it like this: "My paintings are visible thoughts. These thoughts are formed exclusively by the figures the world shows me. These figures are brought together in an order that evokes mystery." However, what interested him was not the psychoanalytical theories explored by most Surrealists, but the symbols he endlessly played with. All this leads seamlessly on to Andy Warhol (1928-1987), the creator of the next work, who said: "Everything is more or less artificial. I don't know where the artificial stops and the real starts." Of course, his approach was very different. His unique 1978 silkscreen print on Saunders paper of Marilyn Monroe (85 x 63 cm/33.4 x 25.6 in) in a negative print fetched €314,510. Remaining on the other side of the Atlantic, we find another female face, this time produced by combining acrylic, flocking, neon and xerography on canvas. In the 1960s and 1970s, American artist Elaine Sturtevant (1926-2014) became well-known—while stirring up controversy—for reinterpreting the works of her famous contemporaries like Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg. This Raysse Peinture à Haute Tension (Raysse High Tension Painting, 162 x 96.5 cm/63.7 x 38 in) from 1968-1969, one of an edition of eight, was a painting by French artist Martial Raysse (b. 1936) that she reinterpreted. It fetched €156,000.

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