Magritte’s first solo exhibition, held at the Galerie Le Centaure in Brussels in 1927, included 12 papiers collés, or collages. Such works were made of printed paper along with watercolor, pencil, and charcoal, juxtaposing mass-produced imagery with the handmade. Most of the printed paper is sheet music, cut from the score of a 1907 English operetta, The Girls of Gottenberg, by George Grossmith, Jr., and L. E. Berman.
These early collages include what would become the artist’s signature motifs: bowler hats, theater curtains, mysterious landscapes, and bilboquets (a term that refers to a toy but in Magritte's work evokes many other objects). Among them Le Jockey perdu (The Lost Jockey) has a singular status: In September 1926 the poet Camille Goemans, Magritte’s friend (and later his dealer), compared the figure of the mounted jockey “hurtling recklessly into the void” to the artist himself.
“I like a lot Le Jockey perdu in the world of bowling pins. [...] The papiers collés go back to outdated processes: music paper cut in the form of pins, fashion plates headless and without hands arranged on abstract surfaces.” – Armand Eggermont, Review of Exposition Magritte, Galerie Le Centaure, 1927, in Le Thyrse, May 8, 1927, p. 214
"Scissors, paste, images and genius in effect superseded brushes, paints, models, style, sensibility and that famous sincerity demanded of artists."
Des ciseaux, de Ia colle,
les pinceaux, les couleurs, le modèle,
le style, Ia sensibilité, et cette fameuse
sincérité demandée aux artistes.
Magritte, La Ligne de vie (Lifeline), 1938.
OF THE DREAM
In 1924 André Breton, a poet and the leader of the Surrealist group, wrote that the movement was based in the “omnipotence of the dream.” This is a realm Magritte explored to deliberately mysterious effect in this dramatically lit scene. A motionless, bowler-hatted figure with closed eyes stands upon a beachlike platform strewn with puffy, oddly earthbound clouds. Behind him is another man, his back to us, apparently identically dressed. The pair appear oblivious to the disturbing and erotically suggestive form, half-human and half-fur, that intrudes at the lower right, a hybrid creature that is reminiscent of the commercial catalog illustrations that Magritte produced in 1926 and 1927 for the Brussels furrier La Maison Samuel. Paintings like L’Assassin menacé and Le Sens de la nuit mark the first appearance in his art of the bowler-hatted man, a figure Magritte would later adopt as a signature motif and alter ego.
"I felt that the world, that life could be transformed and made more in keeping with thought and feeling."
Je sentais que le monde, que la vie pouvaient être
transformes et répondre davantage à Ia pensée, aux sentiments.
Magritte, La Ligne de vie (Lifeline), 1938.
Painted for his first solo
exhibition, in 1927, L’Assassin menacé is one of
Magritte’s largest and most theatrical compositions. A prose poem composed the
same year by the Belgian Surrealist Paul Nougé, possibly in collaboration with
the painter, describes many elements in this sinister scene, among them “an
almost naked woman, a corpse of rare perversity.”
The vacantly staring figures
and everyday objects, all rendered in Magritte’s flat, deadpan style,
underscore what the Belgian abstract artist Pierre Flouquet characterized as
the painting’s “banal crime.” Like many of the Surrealists, Magritte was an
avid fan of the pre–World War I popular crime fiction series Fantômas; he borrowed the placement of
the two detective figures flanking the doorframe from Le Mort qui tue (The
Murderous Corpse), a film from the series first released in 1913.
It was Magritte's ambition to create a similarly
immersive and fantastical world on the canvas, here made manifest in the
unsolvable narrative of this enduringly mysterious painting.
"In this room, amidst a minimal litter of underclothing, there is an almost naked woman, a corspe of rare perversity. Were it not for this dead woman, nothing could disturb so peaceful an interior. Everything in it is neat and tranquil: the spotless floor, the uncluttered table, a tall pedestal table of dark wood. And with the scarf draped softly over the neck, over the shoulder, over the astonishing wound, it would require a certain effort to imagine a severed head.
On the table—fittingly enough—a meditative cat observes the corpse. Turning his back on the dead woman, a young man of great beauty dressed with the most restrained elegance, leaning slightly foward, leaning even so slightly over a gramophone, listens.On his lips, perhaps a smile. At his feet, a suitcase. On a chair, his hat and his overcoat. In the background, at the level of the window sill, four heads stare at the murderer. In the corridor, on either side of the wide-open door, two men are approaching, unable as yet to discern the spectacle.They are ugly customers. Crouching, they hug the wall. One of them unfurls a huge net, the other brandishes a sort of club. All this will be called: 'The murderer threatened.'" – Written 1927, Published in Paul Nougé, Histoire de ne pas rire. Brussels: Les Lèvres nues, 1956.
"I am in favor of the rupture with ancient
and modern art."
Je me prononce pour la rupture
avec l'art ancien ou moderne.
MAGRITTE IN LES BEAUX-ARTS, May 17, 1935.