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Le modèle rouge III

Le modèle rouge III

René Magritte (in 1937)

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  • Marina Messora asked

    Buongiorno nel quadro Le modèle rouge III dipinto del 1937,esiste un collegamento storico di quel periodo o con l'avvento del nazismo?

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen answered

    Dear Marina, Unfortunately my Italian is very poor, so I have to answer your question in English. Magritte painted Le model rouge for the British poet and collector Edward James. Together with two other paintings (Au seuil de la liberte and La jeunesse illustree) it hung in the ballroom of James's London home (35 Wimpole Street). Magritte was always eager not to explain or induce one particular meaning to his work. On the contrary, he wanted to confuse in order to raise awareness about our habits and the limited ways in which we understand the world. Hence he always had his titles chosen by others, or by chance. In a letter, Edward James talks about the contrast between these human working boots and the 'capitalist heels' of the dancers in his ballroom. Magritte himself has mentioned the painting in a 1938 lecture. He said that the image is about "the ease with which a human foot could be placed in a leather shoe, the metamorphosis that then occurs, represented by the proximity of dead and living skin". It is always difficult to make a connection between a work of art with a rather universal meaning and the particular situation in which it was created, especially when the artist did not mention it. As an interpretation though your suggestion is interesting. Good luck with your research. Els


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More information

Magritte loved confronting the viewer with an impossible image that looks deceptively real. The fence in this picture seems perfectly normal but those foot-boots most certainly do not. Their meaning is a mystery. A title usually helps with an incomprehensible scene. Not this time. 'The red model' - red? model? - just adds to the confusion.

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Collection book

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Title Le modèle rouge III
Material and technique Oil on canvas
Object type
Painting > Painting > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Thickness 3.5 cm
Width 136 cm
Height 183 cm
Artists Schilder: René Magritte
Accession number 2992 (MK)
Credits Aankoop met steun van / Purchase with the support of: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Vereniging Rembrandt, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Erasmusstichting, Stichting Bevordering van Volkskracht 1979
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 1979
Age artist About 39 years old
Collector Collector / Edward James
Exhibitions Een prikkelcollectie (2000)
The Collection Enriched (2011)
Gek van surrealisme (2017)
De collectie als tijdmachine (2017)
External exhibitions Dalí, Ernst, Miró, Magritte... (2016)
Magritte, Broodthaers & de hedendaagse kunst (2017)
Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926-1938 (2013)
Surreal Encounters - Collecting the Marvellous (2016)
Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Geographical origin Belgium > Western Europe > Europe

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Author: Marijke Peyser

On 28 January 1937 the eccentric English collector and patron Edward James invited René Magritte to spend two months in his house at 35 Wimpole Street in London.[1] This invitation was the precursor of an important commission for Magritte: making a triptych for James’s ballroom.[2] The three works were Le modèle rouge III, La jeunesse illustrée – both acquired by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen from the Edward James Foundation in the second half of the 1970s – and Au seuil de la liberté (1937), now in The Art Institute of Chicago. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has a smaller, horizontal version of the latter work dating from 1930 (Au seuil de la liberté).

James corresponded with E.L.T. Mesens – the author, poet, publisher and art dealer –about the commercial aspect of the commission.[3] Few documents about the commission have so far come to light, so a number of important details are unknown – who suggested the subjects and dimensions, for instance, and where the paintings were to be placed. A crucial, but until recently overlooked detail, was the use of the French word panneaux – panels – instead of ‘paintings’ in the earliest correspondence between James and Magritte when they discussed the three works.[4] This suggests that they regarded the three works as an entity, a practice that goes back to traditional decorative wall coverings based on historical or mythological subjects made specifically for an interior.

The presence of these three paintings in James’s ballroom was confirmed by the British Surrealist and art collector Roland Penrose. He was a guest at the house in Wimpole Street during Magritte’s time in London and had seen them with his own eyes: ‘The paintings were set into the ballroom walls behind two-way mirrors so that they only became visible when lights behind the glass were switched on.’[5] After a soiree on 18 April 1937 James wrote enthusiastically to Magritte about his guests’ reactions to the works: ‘Your paintings produced a profound sensation at my ball. That evening, Youth Illustrated prompted many conversions to Surrealism among the British youth. But above all, the human boots struck a chord in the young dancing couples in their capitalist heels!’[6]

Le modèle rouge III is the left shutter of the triptych, with Au seuil de la liberté in the middle and La jeunesse illustrée on the right.[7] Magritte made three versions of Le modèle rouge.[8] In his lecture ‘La ligne de vie’ that he gave in the Royal Museum for Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1938, the artist said that the idea for the composition can be seen as the solution to a ‘problem’.[9] This ‘problem’ was the ‘monstrousness’ of habits and the unconcern that flowed from them. It was about ‘the ease with which a human foot could be placed in a leather shoe, the metamorphosis that then occurs, represented by the proximity of dead and living skin’.[10]



[1] See Sylvester 1993a, p. 5. In the end Magritte stayed for two weeks, see New York/Houston/Chicago 2013-14, pp. 195 and 208, note 7.

[2] To his regret Magritte did not get an exclusive contract with James, as the latter had signed one with Dalí, see no. 16.

[3] New York/Houston/Chicago 2013-14, p. 208, note 8: On 5 February 1937 James confirmed in a letter to Mesens that Magritte was to receive £250 for the commission. James supplied the necessary painting materials as Magritte had paid his own travel costs. See Sylvester 1993b, p. 51.

[4] See New York/Houston/Chicago 2013-14, p. 196.

[5] Sylvester 1993b, p. 53.

[6] New York/Houston/Chicago 2013-14, p. 199.

[7] See Rotterdam 2017, p. 175.

[8] The other versions are now in the Centre Pompidou, Paris and in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

[9] See Sylvester 1992b, pp. 205-07.

[10] Brussels 1997, p. 48.

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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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