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La maison de verre

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Title La maison de verre
Material and technique Gouache on paper
Object type
Drawing > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is travelling
Dimensions Height 33.6 cm
Length 40.2 cm
Artists Kunstenaar: René Magritte
Accession number 2942 (MK)
Credits Aankoop / Purchase: 1977
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 1977
Age artist About 41 years old
Collector Collector / Edward James
Provenance Edward James, Chichester 1939-64; Edward James Foundation, Chichester 1964-77
Exhibitions Brussels 1939; London 1973a; Rotterdam 1996a; Brussels 1998; Rotterdam 2006; Liverpool 2011; Edinburgh/Hamburg/Rotterdam 2016-17
Internal exhibitions Gek van surrealisme (2017)
External exhibitions René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle (2011)
Surrealist Art - Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2021)
Surreal Encounters - Collecting the Marvellous (2016)
Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Dalí, Ernst, Miró, Magritte... (2016)
Research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van beuningen
Literature Hammacher 1973, p. 128; Brussels 1978, p. 65; Sylvester 1994, p. 42, cat. no. 1158; Brussels 1998, p. 241; Rogiers 2003, pp. 39-50; Draguet 2006, p. 118; Edinburgh 2016, pp. 213, 215, 248, cat. no. 99
Gouache > Drawing technique > Technique > Material and technique
Geographical origin Belgium > Western Europe > Europe

Entry catalogus A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Author: Marijke Peyser

René Magritte’s gouache La maison de verre was part of a large group of the Belgian Surrealist’s works purchased by the British patron Edward James in 1938.[1] This work is a continuation of the ‘portrait manqué’ and is similar to a portrait Magritte made of James two years earlier: the oil painting La reproduction interdite. The starting point for the gouache and the painting was the same: a photograph of James looking at Magritte’s painting Au seuil de la liberté. In a letter to James dated 12 July 1939, Magritte wrote: ‘It is not surprising that I thought about the photograph I took of you, in which you are standing with your back to the camera. That photograph gave me the chance to show a fine example of the depiction of invisible things.’[2]
For Magritte the face of another was an ‘invisible thing’ that he did not understand and so he could not portray it. He could only reproduce what he understood and this was why the compiler of the five-volume oeuvre catalogue of René Magritte’s work (1992-94), the art historian and critic David Sylvester, identified this gouache as a fragmentary self-portrait of the artist.[3] A second argument, also put forward by Sylvester, is practical: the jacket of the person portrayed is identical to the jacket that the artist wears in his self-portrait La clairvoyance (1936).[4]
Finding a title for La maison de verre proved difficult. Magritte often did not think up his own titles, but was inspired by suggestions from his friends. In his house in rue Esseghem in Jette-Brussels, where Magritte and his wife Georgette had been living since 1930, he received writers such as Nougé, the leader of the Belgian Surrealist group, his mentor E.L.T. Mesens and Camille Goemans, who not only dealt in art but wrote Surrealist poems as well, Marcel Lecomte, Paul Colinet and the authors Louis Scutenaire and his wife Irène Hamoir. They encouraged the artist and gave him the help he needed in finding titles for his work.[5] In April 1939 Magritte described the painting as ‘a man looking at the sea seen from the back, but whose face we can still see’.[6] Magritte had already turned down two earlier titles, La présence éternelle and La colère, suggested by Paul Nougé. Then he decided to fall back on a title he had used previously, L’idée fixe, because he felt it was ‘so appropriate for this difficult case’.[7] In the end Magritte chose La maison de verre. In a letter to his friend Marcel Mariën, the youngest member of the Belgian Surrealist group, he wrote: ‘I think we have found the right title for this gouache with the face in front of the head and the sea: La maison de verre’.[8] This title focuses attention on the ‘fragment’ of the face. The reference to the house is an additional element that ‘evokes an idea of space and surrounding depth while the image remains limited to fields placed on top of one another into infinity: face, back, sea and sky’.[9]


[1] Sylvester 1993a, p. 63.

[2] Sylvester 1994, p. 42, no. 1158.

[3] Rotterdam 2006, p. 118.

[4] Sylvester 1992a, p. 306.

[5] Ceuleers 1999, p. 10.

[6] Sylvester 1994, p. 42: letter to Marcel Mariën, April 1939.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Michel Draguet in Rotterdam 2006, p. 118.

Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
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All about the artist

René Magritte

Lessen 1898 - Schaarbeek 1967

René Magritte studied at the academy in Brussels. He began as pattern designer in a carpet factory and as painter by painting and designing advertising posters...

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