Le domaine enchanté (II) is the second in the eponymous series of eight canvases that Magritte painted to fulfill a commission from Gustave Nellens, owner of the seaside Casino Communal at Knokke-Le-Zoute in Belgium. Magritte and Delvaux had jointly exhibited in Nellens' spacious establishment in August 1952. Later that year Delvaux executed a mural for the Kursaal, an assembly room, in Ostende (Butor, no. 331), which prompted Nellens to seek an artist's decorative scheme to likewise adorn the interior of the Salle de Lustre (so named because it contained the largest chandelier in Europe; fig. 1), one of his gaming rooms in Knokke. He proposed this idea to Magritte in early 1953. Magritte had already created in 1951 a circular painting of clouds to adorn the ceiling of the small Théâtre des Galeries in Brussels (Sylvester, no. 770). The commission at Knokke would be far grander in every way; Magritte's designs would be replicated by professional painters as a panoramic mural on a monumental scale, which would indeed prove to be the largest of his career, including those he subsequently executed for the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi in 1956 (Sylvester, no. 850), and the Palais du Congrès, Brussels, in 1963 (no. 933).
Other leading masters of vintage modernism had been engaged since the end of the Second World War in the creation of large compositions, murals, and other decorations for public spaces--Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Miró and Léger chief among them. For Magritte, then in his mid-fifties, a commission on this scale was a timely opportunity to bring his subtle, introverted and idiosyncratic art before the public. The casino environment, dedicated to games of chance as an upscale bourgeois entertainment, itself held a special fascination for Magritte. He was a devotee of the crime mystery novels in which the dual authors Alain and Souvestre featured the nefarious Fantomas, a favorite character of the surrealists--in one title, La main coupée, 1911, the book's cover illustration showed a severed hand reaching toward a roulette wheel.
Magritte realized from the start, and Nellens should be credited for anticipating that the content and visual effect of this mural would be unique and unprecedented, especially in light of any conventions related to the activities carried on at its destined site. The artist's distinctive approach to his subjects would recast the casino hall as an important surrealist environment on a huge scale. And as such Le domaine enchanté was intended to become a permanent attraction, not as an occasional and transient event, as many earlier surrealist installations had been carried out. This project was in every way a massive undertaking, especially for an artist accustomed to using as his studio the corner of the living room in a cramped apartment he and wife had occupied for nearly a quarter century. In an interview given on the occasion of the inauguration of the completed mural, Magritte stated:
"There is no question of this being a mural decoration in the usual sense of the word. Since he who devised it, not having modified his intentions in any way, does not paint pictures either that correspond to the generally accepted notion of painting. It is assumed that if the painter is used to decorate the interior of a church, a barracks, a casino or a station, he must present objects directly inspired by the rationale and purpose of these interiors. That is not my view. When asked to devise a series of pictures for the walls of a Casino gaming room, I did not think along the lines expected of me... My intention is to offer an artistic spectacle of some significance, and convey a hitherto unknown feeling, a feeling in keeping with the attitude appropriate to a person living in the universe" (published in Elle, 16 July 1953, p. 8; in D. Sylvester, op. cit., pp. 217-218, no. 791).
The artist submitted designs to Nellens in the form of small gouaches, five of which have been recorded (Sylvester, nos. 1362-1366; although not including the idea for the present painting). Nellens approved these in late April, and Magritte proceeded swiftly to paint the versions on canvas, including the present picture, which would serve as models for the greatly enlarged, mural-sized panels to be executed as a panorama wrapped around the entire circumference of the Salle de Lustre. The high walls were flat at the center of each side, and curved in the corners, creating the illusion that the individual panels form a continuous sequential composition, but with neither a beginning nor end, like a serpent biting its tail.
The imagery which Magritte chose to incorporate in the eight paintings of Le domaine enchanté represent a synthesis of his selected favorite ideas, many drawn from recent pictures, some of which had sources in works of the 1930s and 1940s. The Belgian poet Paul Colinet, who often assisted Magritte in devising titles for his paintings, prepared a commentary for Le domaine enchanté, in which he provided an account in short verses of the imagery in each painting, and indicated the artist's sources from his earlier work (op. cit., 1953). Patrick Waldberg, who liked to regard the entirety of Magritte's oeuvre as Le domaine enchanté, concluded his monograph by reprising Colinet's text (op. cit.). David Sylvester subsequently used this information as an important source for his entry on the pictures of Le domaine enchanté in his catalogue raisonné (op. cit., 1993). The particulars relating to present painting, (II), are as follows, beginning with Colinet's verses:
Azure constructions rise in the space called sky.
A young woman gracefully presents two different forms of the same bird.
Two towers walk like friends, by the sea.
The sky under construction: L'Univers démasqué, 1932 (Sylvester, no. 344)
Les Marches de l'Été, 1938-1939 (no. 466; fig. 2)
La Folie des grandeurs, 1948-1949 (no. 672)
The woman with a dove: L'Embellie (I), 1941 (no. 492)
L'Embellie (II), 1942 (no. 495; fig. 3)
La Clairvoyance, 1936 (no. 419)
The two towers: L'Amour, 1949 (no. 712; fig. 4)
La Méditation, 1936 (no. 410)
The pictorial world in Magritte's pictures treats objects which are at first appearance recognizable and unmistakable, real and even rather ordinary; yet taken together in the context in which the artist has assembled them, they hint at an unfathomably mysterious reality. "I do not juxtapose strange elements to shock," Magritte commented to a magazine reporter. "I describe my thoughts of mystery, which is the union of everything and anything we know" (quoted in "The square Surrealist" in Newsweek, 5 January 1966, p. 58). To this end Magritte exercised various ploys of contrast and opposition, generating visual relationships that typically defy conventional logic and expectations; these methods yielded new, unfamiliar and often surprising relationships between the common things of this world, while cumulatively revealing an intriguing alternative universe of the artist's own eccentric design.
Magritte has concretized the vast azure sky in Le domaine enchanté (II) into massive blocks of air, displaying in the brilliant sunlight their own planes of light and shadow, as if God the creator had experimentally taken a Euclidean turn in his handiwork. The beach and sea at Knokke lay close beyond the casino doors, no doubt inspiring Magritte to set this scene on a bare, desolate strand, a familiar stage for surrealist imaginings, suggesting infinite space and time. The central image is a classically statuesque figure of a woman, modeled on the artist's wife Georgette, who has raised her arms to weigh--as if she were a human balance scale--"two different forms of the same bird," the egg in one hand and the mature, full-fledged creature on the other. What may have begun for the artist as a tongue-in-cheek exposition on the old conundrum of which came first, has here been transformed into a genuine sense of wonderment that unites these complementary aspects of the organic life process. Magritte continues his miraculous creation story in the fanciful courtship between two tall towers, each standing for a proud, solitary human being, whose thoughts emanate as birds circling about their crowning battlements. The artist has transformed these medieval stone and mortar structures into soft-fleshed, twisting worms that intertwine and lean into each other, affectionately slouching side-by-side across the strand, as if engaged in an amorous prelude to what may well become an even more bizarre mating ritual.
The spacing of motifs in Magritte's plan for the mural was symmetrically centered around the female figure in the present painting, and her reappearance, the dove this time on her shoulder, in Le domaine enchanté (VI), which is similarly positioned on the wall directly opposite (Sylvester, no. 791.6; fig. 5). By way of another echoing pictorial analogy, the twin towers here have become in the sixth panel the leaning Tower of Pisa, a giant feather counter-balancing and supporting its famous tilt. Other elements in the mural similarly interface and relate with one another.
A team of four painters and two assistants, under the supervision of Raymond Art, Nellens' head painter-decorator, commenced work around 24 May. Nellens required that the job be done quickly, and it was decided, against Art's better judgment, to paint directly on the casino walls rather than on an intervening support, which subsequently led to condition issues resulting from the damp, salty air which permeates the casino's seaside location. Rather than utilizing the conventional method of squaring up Magritte's imagery for enlargement and transfer, which would have added weeks to their task, Art and his painters resorted to the more expedient method of tracing the contours over images projected from slides directly on to the walls, which necessitated the temporary lowering of the grand chandelier. This preparatory work had been completed by the time Magritte arrived in Knokke on 1 June to follow the work on his mural-in-progress. He approved the transfer results, and the actual work of painting got underway. Art provided standard colors from his stocks, except for a special blue, used in the sky only, which Magritte had ordered from his Brussels paint manufacturer.
In conversations with David Sylvester in 1988, Art insisted that Magritte's role in the execution of the mural was strictly supervisory. The artist visited the site every two or three days during June, accompanied by his wife and their pet dog, eying the painters' efforts, but he never stayed for more than a half hour. On one occasion he argued with and dismissed one of the painters, whom Art placed back on the job the next day. Art denied Nellens' assertions to the press at the time that Magritte occasionally clambered up a ladder and added some brushstrokes of his own. The mural was completed by 4 July, some six weeks after on-site preparations had begun; the first photographs of the paintings appeared in Brussels newspapers on 10 and 11 July.
Nellens hosted an evening reception to unveil the mural, to which various luminaries were invited, including celebrities such as Maurice Chevalier and Yves Montand. Magritte was not allowed the pleasure of attending the affair. He had a dispute with Nellens over some petty cash expenditures, and was refused admission at the door. He was later snubbed again when a banquet was held at the casino to honor the opening of a Max Ernst retrospective.
Art informed Sylvester that he believed Nellens' payment to Magritte amounted to 250,000 Belgian francs, and that this sum was in fact just for the eight paintings that Magritte had painted as models, which Nellens had acquired for this collection, and had nothing more to do with the execution and completion of the mural itself. "At just over FB. 30,000 a canvas," Sylvester calculated, "this was considerably more than [Magritte] was receiving from his American dealer for paintings of a comparable size, and the total sum--the equivalent of $5,000--was substantially more than his annual income from [his Brussels dealer] Iolas until the time of their exclusive contract [in 1956]" (op. cit., 1993, p. 216).
Le domaine enchanté remains an attraction at the casino in Knokke to this day, while the reputation of the artist and the significance of his work now well exceed any expectations Magritte himself may have ever dreamed possible, or for that matter anyone else in his lifetime or during the decade or two thereafter. The wide-ranging impact of Magritte's painting on artists working today, as well as on the wider public consciousness, has been showcased most recently in Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, an imaginative installation designed by John Baldessari at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2007, which also included works by thirty post-war artists ranging from Rauschenberg, Johns, Lichtenstein, Guston, and Warhol to Prince, Salle, Gober and Koons.
"The art of René Magritte has had an influence far exceeding the confines of the art world," Stephanie Barron has written. "Imagery adapted from his paintings has been widely disseminated for more than half a century through advertising, cartoons, film, book jackets, and popular music... His work has continued to appeal to modern audiences hungry for the puzzling conjunctions of the everyday and the fantastic... The inscrutable nature of Magritte's work--coded, self-referential, and incongruous--has [moreover] intrigued several generations of artists. His refusal to explain, his steadfast dismissal of psychological interpretations, and the enigmatic titles of the paintings themselves have all fueled speculation about the meaning of his art" (op. cit., 2007, p. 9).
Magritte standing in front of his mural Le domaine enchanté in the casino at Knokke-Le-Zoute, 1953. Barcode: 28859680
Magritte (left) with one of the painters on the scaffolding, comparing the present painting with the corresponding mural panel, June 1953. BARCODE: 28859659
(fig. 1) The Salle de Lustre in the Casino at Knokke-Le-Zoute, with the mural panel based on the present painting at far right. BARCODE: 28859642
(fig. 2) René Magritte, Les Marches de l'Été, 1938-1939. Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris. BARCODE: 28859673
(fig. 3) René Magritte, L'Embellie (II), 1942. Present location unknown. BARCODE: 28859635
(fig. 4) René Magritte, L'Amour, 1949. Private collection. BARCODE:
(fig. 5) René Magritte, Le domaine enchanté (VI), 1953. Sold, Christie's, London, 1 July 1999, lot 59. BARCODE: 28859666
Le domaine enchanté (II)
Oil on canvas
Property of AN EAST COAST COLLECTOR
Signed 'magritte' (lower left); titled, dated and numbered '"LE DOMAINE ENCHANTÉ" 1953 II' (on the reverse) and numbered again and inscribed 'no 2 GRAND PANNEAU CENTRAL (en face du no 6)' (on the stretcher)
Rene Magritte , 1950s, Paintings, oil, Belgium, Surrealist, figures
Paris, Galerie La Hune, Le domaine enchanté, January 1966.
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, René Magritte: Het mysterie van de werkelijkheid, August-September 1967, p. 160, no. 63 (illustrated, p. 161; dated 1951-1953).
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, René Magritte, October-November 1967, p. 48, no. 57 (illustrated).
Ferrara, Galleria civica d'arte moderna, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Cento anni de pittura belga: collezione Gustave J. Nellens Knokke Le Zoute, Belgio, February-April 1970, no. 99/2 (illustrated in color).
Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art and Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art, Rétrospective René Magritte, May-September 1971, no. 40 (illustrated in color; dated 1951-1953).
Charleroi, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Le Hainaut, terre de surréalisme, October 1971, no. 58.
Paris, Grand Palais, Peintres de l'imaginaire: Symbolistes et Surréalistes belges, February-April 1972, p. 174, no. 139 (illustrated; dated 1951-1953).
Brussels, Banque de Bruxelles, René Magritte, May 1972.
Knokke-Le-Zoute, Casino, Collection Nellens, June-September 1972, no. 72.
St. Etienne, Musée d'art et d'industrie, Les peintres belges et les surréalistes dans la collection Gustave J. Nellens, October-November 1972, p. 16, no. 36 (illustrated in color, p. 53, fig. 29B; dated 1951-1953).
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Magritte, October-November 1973, pp. 117-124, no. 60 (illustated in color).
The New York Cultural Center and Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Painters of the Mind's Eye: Belgian Symbolists and Surrealists, February-May 1974, p. 130, no. 103 (illustrated; dated 1951-1953).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Le domaine enchanté, November 1977-January 1978.
Ithaca, Cornell University, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, March-May 1978.
Paris, Galerie Isy Brachot, René Magritte: Le domaine enchanté, June-December 1988, pp. 6, 22 and 31 (illustrated in color, pp. 7 and 22; verso illustrated, p. 28).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, René Magritte: Le domaine enchanté, June-July 1994, no. II (illustated in color).
New York, Edelman Arts, Inc. & Paul Kasmin Gallery, Surrealism: Then and Now, October-November 2006.
Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, Surrealism: Dreams on Canvas, May-August 2007, p. 24 (illustrated in color).
Mexico City, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, El mundo invisible de René Magritte, March-July 2010, pp. 122-123 (illustrated in color).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
26 7/8 x 53 in. (68.2 x 134.6 cm.)
P. Colinet and R. Magritte, "Le Domaine Enchanté": panorama surréaliste de René Magritte, Knokke-Le-Zoute, 1953 (illustrated in color).
P. Waldberg, René Magritte, Brussels, 1965, pp. 269-276 (illustrated in color).
P. Colinet, Le domaine enchanté de René Magritte, Knokke-Le-Zoute, 1970 (illustrated in color).
R. Passeron, René Magritte, Paris, 1970, p. 79 (mural at Knokke illustrated in color).
R. Melville, "The Enchanted Domain" in The Architectural Review, January 1974, pp. 54-58.
A. Breton, L'amour fou, Paris, 1977.
H. Kramer, "Wanted: A Purpose for Modern Art at the Met" in The New York Times, 20 November 1977, p. D29.
J. Meuris, Magritte, New York, 1990, pp. 194-197 (illustrated in color).
D. Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1949-1967, New York, 1993, vol. III, pp. 208-214, no. 791.2 (illustrated, p. 210).
J. Meuris, René Magritte, Cologne, 2004, pp. 160-163 and 213 (mural at Knokke-Le-Zoute illustrated, p. 161; mural at Knokke-Le-Zoute illustrated again in color, pp. 162-163).
S. Gohr, Magritte: Attempting the Impossible, New York, 2009, p. 218.
D. Sylvester, ed., Magritte, Brussels, 2009, pp. 356 and 358 (mural at Knokke illustrated in color, p. 359).
C. Grunenberg and D. Pih, eds., Magritte A to Z, London, 2011, p. 91.
Gustave J. Nellens, Knokke-Le-Zoute (acquired from the artist).
Jacques and Roger Nellens, Knokke-Le-Zoute (by descent from the above).
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels (1988).
Fuji Television Gallery, Co., Tokyo.
Nippon Autopolis Co., Tokyo (acquired from the above, 1990).
Private collection (1991).
Galerie Cazeau-Béraudière, Paris.
MK Fine Art, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2006.