Sotheby’s to Auction Letters by Rene Magritte

Sotheby’s New York will offer a Highly Important Series of Over Forty Autograph Letters and Postcards from Surrealist master René Magritte to poet Paul Colinet, on 18 June 2010.

The correspondence forms an extraordinary record of the artist’s creative process in addition to revealing the literary and artistic influences on his work during the most productive period of his career. Complete with whimsical drawings and sketches, many of which are variations on the artist’s well-known canvases, the cache last appeared on the auction market at Sotheby’s London in 1987, where it was offered in a sale of artifacts from the artist’s studio consigned by his widow. No other significant group of Magritte letters has appeared on the market since.

The present collection will be the cover lot of Sotheby’s spring sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts on 18 June 2010, and prior to exhibition and sale in New York, highlights will be shown in London from 17-20 May.

In 1933, Magritte met the Belgian Surrealist poet Paul Colinet, and the two became close friends rapidly. At the time, Magritte’s personal connections with Surrealism were strained – he had left Paris in disgust and returned home to Brussels – although ironically his artwork remained clearly Surrealist in style. The collection of letters cover a wide range of topics – artistic, literary and surreal – and reveals a remarkable influence Colinet wielded on Magritte and his oeuvre.

In numerous letters Magritte discusses the question of appropriate titles for his paintings. Having acknowledged that Colinet has a rare talent for finding the most suitable title for his paintings, Magritte frequently asks his advice, with a sketch of the picture included. On the verso of an undated letter Magritte pens a landscape, a derivative no doubt of the artist’s iconic L’Empire des Lumières, and writes beneath it, “un titre plaese! (prononcer un ‘titre plisse’).” In another letter Magritte gives his definition of the art of painting, and in yet another, sets out to tackle the question “What does this picture represent?”

A peek inside the mind of the Surrealist genius is presented by a letter in which Magritte digressed on the significance of the number 9 and his prose becomes a bit surreal: “vous avez déjà remarqué que le chiffre 18 compose de 1 et de 8, soit 1 + 8 =9 . . . le chiffre 9, multiplié par lui-même donc 81, soit 8 = 1 = 9 . . .”

The correspondence with Colinet also reveals Magritte’s opinion of various works of literature, at one point expressing disgust with André Breton’s L’art magique and stating he cannot share Colinet’s enthusiasm for the work of Jorge Luis Borges. He goes on to note that he has just received books by Paul Morand, Joseph-Arthur, comte de Gobineau and Martin Heidegger.