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Le seize septembre
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Le seize septembre
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About the item

The haunting beauty of Le seize septembre, painted in 1957, establishes it among Magritte's most captivating paintings.  The artist first conceived the idea for this composition in 1956, while painting a series called Place au soleil.  His work and musings on these pictures led him to imagine a new composition.  "I have continued with my 'Places in the sun,'" he wrote to Rapin and Dors on April 20, 1956, "but by now the title is no longer suitable for a big tree at night time with a crescent moon above it!" (Whitfield and Raeburn, op. cit., p. 254).   After he painted this new picture, he described and sketched it in a letter to Ernst Jügen in June 1956 (see fig. 1):  "...I have painted a picture, a night scene, in which the moon is hiden by a tree."  The origins of this image can be seen in other compositions from around this time (see fig. 2), which feature crescent moons and giant arbors in twilight.  It was only in 1956 that the artist decided to incorporate these two forms into one uncanny image and ultimately devised a darkly romantic series of four pictures entitled, Le seize septembre.\nMagritte made a career out of mesmerizing his audience with dream-like images that were unexpected and otherwise unimaginable.  Although he never defined himself as a Surrealist, he owed much to that tradition of painting and its visual interpretations of the processes of the unconscious mind.  Magritte devised his own brand of the uncanny, investing his often startlingly realistic pictures with  elements of improbability.  For the present picture, selecting a title that has ostemsibly little to do with the composition adds yet another element of the unexpected to the picture.   "I painted the moon in a tree in the bluish-grey colours of the evening," Magritte wrote to Dors and Rapin again on August 6, 1956.  "Scutenaire has come up with an appropriate title for it: Sixteenth of September.  I think it's good.  Nothing else need be said about 16th September" (quoted in Witfield and Raeburn, op. cit., p. 257).\nMichèle Wilmotte provides the following anecdote about this series: "A young girl spoke to [Magritte] as follows of the crescent moon before the tree: 'I love it when the moon is hidden behind the leaves,'  to which Magritte replied: 'I love it when the moon is hidden behind the leaves too, but if we saw them behind the moon as well, that would be unbelievable.  Life would finally have some meaning!" (René Magritte (exhibition catalogue), Provinciaal Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Oostende, 1990, p. 279).\nAs noted earlier, the present work is the third and the largest of four related paintings, all titled Le seize septembre, that Magritte completed between 1956 and 1958 (no. 834; no. 836, see fig. 3; no. 888).  Similar to the Impressionist painter, Claude Monet, Magritte often painted his best compositions in series, such as L'empire des lumières (see fig. 4), slightly altering pictorial certain details for each rendition.   In both Le seize septembre and L'empire des lumières, Magritte varies the size and shape of the tree but preserves its over-all monumentality.\nDiscussing the present work, A.M. Hammacher has written, "Magritte has attained the immobility which makes it possible for him to experience form inwardly.  Out of this immobility grows silence, the mysterious silence in which the darkness of the tree, painted in all its details precisely as Caspar David Friedrich would have painted it, develops from intimacy to immensity.  Now Magritte is the complete Romantic, who makes night seize upon the space occupied by the tree.  He places the moon not above, beside, or behind the tree, but in front of it.  And this is the one sign that shows us that we are not in the presences of a nineteenth-century painter.  The names of poets like Novalis and Rilke occur to us" (A.M. Hammacher, op. cit., p. 146)\nWhile Magritte renders visible the impossible, by superimposing the moon onto the foliage, he also evokes a "surrealist" mood simply by presenting the tree against the backdrop of late twilight.  As with Edvard Munch's Sommernatt, Aarsgaardstrand (see lot 20), Magritte captures the moment before darkness and night have fully fallen -- a moment of beauty and mystery that has inspired countless generations of poets, artists and lovers.\nThe year that he painted the present work, Magritte opened his first one-man exhibition at Alexandre Iolas's New York gallery.  The year before, the artist had signed a contract with Iolas, agreeing to give the dealer exclusive rights to his production.  The arrangement initiated many important relationships with major collectors in the United States.  After Iolas saw the first rendition of Le seize septembre (no. 834) in 1956, he requested that Magritte paint the present work.  The dealer then sold this picture to the Texan collectors Jean and Dominique de Menil, who kept it in their possession until 1978.  Since then it was briefly in a Belgian collection, and then returned to the United States where it has remained over the last 20 years.\nFig. 1, Except from letter fom the artist to Ernst Jünger, dated June 5/6, 1956\nFig. 2, René Magritte, Le chef-d'oeuvre ou les mystères de l'horizon, 1955, oil on canvas, Frederick Weisman Company, Los Angeles\nFig. 3, René Magritte, Le seize septembre, 1956, oil on canvas, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp\nFig. 4, René Magritte, L'empire des lumières, 1954, oil on canvas, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York\nSigned Magritte (lower right); titled, signed and dated Magritte 1957 on the reverse
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

René Magritte

dimensions

63 7/8 by 51 5/8 in.

exhibition

Paris, Cahiers d'Art, René Magritte, 1958, no. 2 New York, Iolas Gallery, René Magritte, 1958 New York, Iolas Gallery, René Magritte, 1959 (possibly no. 834) Dallas, Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston, Museum of Fine Art, René Magritte in America, 1960, no. 64 Little Rock, Arkansas Art Center, Magritte, 1964 New York Cultural Center, Belgian Symbolists and Surrealists, 1974, no. 115 Houston, Rice University, Institute for the Arts, Secret affinities.  Works and Images by René Magritte, 1976-77 New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings by René Magritte, 1977, no. 16

literature

Maurice Rapin, Dans la nuit de René Magritte il y a le ciel qui flotte sur nous tous, Paris, January 15, 1958, illustrated Arts, Paris, January 29-February 4, 1958, illustrated p. 16 A.M. Hammacher, René Magritte, New York, 1973, illustrated pp. 41 Sarah Whitfield and Michael Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, London, 1993, no. 860, illustrated p. 275 

provenance

Alexander Iolas, New York (acquired from the artist in 1957) Jean and Dominique de Menil (acquired from the above before December 1960 and sold through Charles Byron in 1978) Private Collection, Brussels Private Collection, California Acquired from the above in 1986

signedDate

Signed Magritte (lower right); titled, signed and dated Magritte 1957 on the reverse

consignmentDesignation

Property of a Private American Collector

creator_nationality_dates

1898 - 1967





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