Magritte’s Graphic Works

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 6:30:05 PM

Magritte’s Graphic Works (info from two sources)

[The Kaplan-Baum catalogue raisonné of his prints numbers only 2 lithographs and 18 etchings, of which, according to the introduction to The Graphic Work of Rene Magritte (1982), only five were created "created as graphics by Magritte's own hand; the rest were initiated by Magritte in other media (pen and ink, crayon sketches, gouache) for the sole purpose of being rendered as graphic work. All of these works were "completed and initiated during the last eight years of the artist's life (1961-1968)." Recently Magritte's estate released 3 previously-unknown Magritte etchings, all signed in the plate, in an edition of 950 impressions on Rives paper printed by the Atelier Dutrou in Paris. One is dated 1952 in the plate; the others were dated 1928 and 1934 by Magritte's estate. To have found these three additional plates is an important discovery.

The etchings themselves are in mint condition. When an etching plate is steel-faced to harden the soft copper ( a process this is fairly standard these days for editions larger than 50 impressions), a much larger number of impressions can be printed without deterioration of the quality.  Magritte prints are selling for very high prices these days: In March 2008, a color lithograph after Magritte published in 1973 numbered 462/750 with a stamped signature sold at auction for $2600 plus 20% ($3120); a posthumously-published etching (175x143mm) published in 1969 in an edition of 150 with a stamped signature printed by Georges Visat after a drawing by Magritte sold at auction for $3200 (plus 20%) for a total price of $3840. Our three etchings, according to the estate stamp, are done from plates executed by Magritte himself.

Bibliography: General works: There is a multi-volume catalgoue raisonné in progress written by David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield, René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné (Antwerp: Mercatorfonds for Philip Wilson, London, 1993) Sylvester is also the the author of several studies of aspecs of Magritte's work including Magritte (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1969) and Magritte (London: Thames & Hudson, 1992). The bibliography of works on Magritte is enormous; selected entries include Richard Calvocoressi, Magritte (London: Phaidon Press, 1994); James Thrall Soby, Magritte (New York: Doubleday, MOMA, 1965); Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images (NY: Abrams, 1977); Sarah Whitfield, Magritte (Exhibition catalog, London: The South Bank Centre, 1992). Gilbert E. Kaplan and Timothy Baum prepared a catalogue raisonné of Magritte's prints (The Graphic Work of René Magritte) in 1982 which now needs to be updated.]

[Magritte’s graphic works can be divided into 3 distinct categories: The 1st category consists of graphic works conceived by Magritte, applied to the plate or lithographic stone by the artist’s own hand and executed during his lifetime, of which there are only 5 total.

The second category is comprised of a mere 15 graphic works drawn on the plate with the help of the master printmaker George Visat, from an original composition submitted by Magritte designated exclusively for this purpose. Most of the etchings in the 2nd category were published posthumously and stamped with a reproduction of the artist’s signature. While the images from the first 2 categories of prints contain similar themes to those portrayed in other media, all of these graphic works were in fact specifically created for these editions.

The 3rd category is lithographs after oil paintings, gouaches or murals by the artist. Prints from this final category were all executed posthumously by the printer Fernand Mourlot, and usually signed by him or the artist’s wife, Georgette Magritte. 8 of the 12 works from the portfolio “Les Enfants Trouvés” (The Found Children) created after the murals Magritte painted for the Municipal Casino at Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium, are examples of this third category. However the first 4 prints from the portfolio “Les Enfants Trouvés” were created specifically for this project.

According to the catalogue raisonné of René Magritte’s graphic works, he initiated a total of 20 graphic works during the last 8 years of his life: 18 etchings and 2 lithographs. 15 of the 18 etchings were created to illustrate 4 volumes of Surrealist poetry. One of the lithographs was created as a poster for “Le Salon de Mai,” a Paris art exhibition, while the other lithograph was published by Vingtième Siècle, an international art magazine. One etching was included in Il Surrealismo tra le due guerre (Surrealism Between the Two Wars) a portfolio of works by 11 Surrealist artists including Hans Arp, Man Ray, Roberto Matta, and others. The final 2 etchings were published as small, independent editions.

Magritte’s graphic works, although small in number, are rendered with close attention to detail, a focus on enigmatic compositions, and are consistent with the Surrealist vision that permeates his artistic oeuvre.

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