Magritte's Le Territoire belongs to a series of compositions from 1956 in which the superimposition of one pictorial theme against another creates a compelling singular image. In the case of the present work, Magritte reorganizes the elements of a traditional landscape painting, setting terra firma aloft amidst the clouds. In the great tradition of Surrealist absurdity, Magritte's reorganization of the elements here is a challenge to our understanding of perspective, place and permanence.
Magritte's subversion of the fundamental properties of nature were an extension of his fascination with "elective affinities," or the idea that parallels can exist between two seemingly unrelated objects when depicted together. Taking this philosophy a step further, he explored the disorienting effect of rearranging related objects in unexpected combinations that transformed their identity. His first foray into this process was with the composition La place au soleil, but the present work and L'Empire des lumières are two of the most successful examples of this technique. By superimposing a smaller image onto a larger one, he obscures the clear relationship between the two images and their role in the narrative of his composition. Magritte tried to explain his artistic objective for these compositions in the following terms: "What is seen on an object is another object hidden by the one which is interposed between us and the hidden object. In such a way that the object which is interposed (the apple or the chair for instance), is partly hidden by the object (the scribe or the seated woman) which was hidden. That which is interposed between an object and us is hidden by the object which is no longer hidden?!?!?" (quoted in D. Sylvester, op. cit., p. 254). In other words, the resulting confusion created by these compositions is wholly intentional.
In the catalogue raisonné of the artist's work, David Sylvester notes that the present picture is one of five works begun in 1956, completed in January-February 1957 and delivered to Iolas that March. Because Sylvester was never able to examine the picture first-hand, he evidently was unaware that the artist himself clearly dated this picture 1956 on the reverse of the canvas.
Oil on canvas
Sào Paolo, Museu de Arte Moderna, IV Bienal, Belgian Section, 1957, no. 42
29 1/2 by 47 1/4 in. 75 by 120 cm
Dore Ashton, "Art: Magritte's work at 2 galleries," The New York Times, New York, March 4, 1959, p. 28
David Sylvester, Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, London, 1993, no. 845, illustrated p. 263
Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist in 1957 and until 1962)
Hanover Gallery, London (acquired from the above)
Joachim Jean Aberbach, New York (acquired from the above in 1964)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1968)
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired from the above in 1970)
Mme Maria do-Céu Cupertino de Miranda (in 2000)
Acquired from the above by the present owner