It’s been 26 long years since London played host to a show dedicated to the master of Belgian surrealism, René Magritte. Patient art buffs, who may remember the Hayward Gallery’s exhibition in 1992, will now be richly rewarded with a visit to René Magritte (Or: The Rule of Metaphor) at Savile Row’s Luxembourg & Dayan gallery. This exhibition, running from February 27 until May 12, is dedicated to the development of his early word-pictures during his time spent in Paris between 1927 to 1930.
These years, marking the most prolific period in Magritte’s life, saw the painter active in the French surrealist circle and producing more than 40 paintings and collages that have become known as the word-pictures cycle. Referring to this body of work, Magritte insisted that “an object is not so wedded to its name that one cannot find another name that suits it better”.
Indeed, the exhibition, a mixture of loans from museums and some works for sale, contains one painting, La clef des songes (1927), that art critic David Sylvester identifies as Magritte’s first ever word-picture in the catalogue raisonné. It is a series of four images: a bag, a corkscrew, a leaf and a sponge, but only the sponge is given its conventional name. The bag is labelled the sky; the corkscrew, a bird; and the leaf, a table.
Other works in the exhibition include L’usage de la parole (1928) in which two near identical daubs of paint are identified as a mirror and the body of a woman; Les amants (1928) that features a male head sans torso looking lovingly at a woman; and Le parfum de l’abîme (1928) in which daubs of paint are described as a baby’s face. Also on show is the disturbing Le genre nocturne (1928), which illustrates Magritte’s consuming preoccupation with hidden faces and objects. This recurring imagery is believed to be the result of the trauma he suffered, aged 13, when his mother committed suicide by drowning and, it is said, her body was pulled out of a river with her dress covering her face. It is as witty and enigmatic as anything one has come to expect from Magritte (prices available on application to the gallery). “It is hard to think of any other surrealist artist who predicted the radical image culture of our time with such measure of success and accuracy as René Magritte,” says Alma Luxembourg, partner at the gallery. “Our show brings the Belgian master of mystery back to London after decades of absence.”