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Impressionist & Modern Art / RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967) Les menottes de cuivre 83 3/4 in (212.72 cm) (height) (This bronze version cast by the Susse Foundry in 2009 under the direction of Charly Herscovici in a numbered edition of 8 plus 4 artist's proofs, after the plaster cast reproduction of Venus de Milo painted by René Magritte in 1931)

LOT 10
Les menottes de cuivre
18 mai 2022, 17 h 00 UTC-4
New York

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RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)

Les menottes de cuivre
inscribed with the artist's signature and numbered 'Magritte 1/8' (on the front of the base), further stamped with the foundry mark 'Susse Fondeur Paris' and the Succession René Magritte hallmark (on the back of the base)
painted bronze
83 3/4 in (212.72 cm) (height)
This bronze version cast by the Susse Foundry in 2009 under the direction of Charly Herscovici in a numbered edition of 8 plus 4 artist's proofs, after the plaster cast reproduction of Venus de Milo painted by René Magritte in 1931


The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Charly Herscovici.

Susse Fondeur, Paris.
Magritte Gallery, Paris.
Private collection, Belgium (acquired from the above).
Private collection, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015.

P. Waldberg, René Magritte, Brussels, 1965, p. 9 (another cast illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Magritte, The Silence of the World, New York, 1992 (plaster cast illustrated p. 213).
S. Gohr, Magritte: Attempting the Impossible, Antwerp, 2009, no. 420 (the painted plaster version illustrated p. 307).
Exh. cat., Life Like: Sculpture, Color and the Body, New York, 2018, no. 7 (the painted plaster miniature version illustrated p. 90).
P. Moreno, Magritte, Bronze Sculptures, Multiple Editions of René Magritte, Luxembourg, 2014 (another cast illustrated).
D. Ottinger, Dictionnaire de l'objet surréaliste, Paris, 2013 (another bronze version illustrated p. 193).

"Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present."
– René Magritte

The monumental sculpture Les menottes de cuivre by René Magritte synthesizes an array of concepts and forms that were fundamental to his unique artistic practice and development.

Magritte's first solo exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts was held from May to June, 1933. Paul Nougé, the celebrated Belgian Surrealist poet and philosopher, wrote the preface to the exhibition catalogue, enigmatically titling it The Future of Statues." His essay focused on Magritte's sculptural series in which he hand-painted commercially available plaster casts. Two of these works were included in the Palais des Beaux-Arts exhibition: a death mask of Napoleon upon which Magritte painted his iconic light blue sky with white cumulus clouds, and a reproduction of the Venus de Milo, transfigured by her miniaturized scale and eye-catching peach and blue paint. Nougé eloquently wrote in his catalogue introduction:

"[These] monuments and famous pictures, strengthened by their smooth journey through time, continue to occupy a special place in our minds. This is so almost always without our realizing it, and whether we think them worthy of contempt, admiration or indifference...It may seem opportune to call into question these sumptuous objects which pursue us through history. But the process must be carried out with a certain skill, because we need to challenge them without dislodging them from the spiritual level on which they have always stood...[T]his torso of flesh joining a chalk head to legs that are draped in pure blue, and the severed arms open out onto the darkest night – here is a statuette by which the sheer virtue of its presence changes the genuine Milo marble into cork" (quoted in D. Sylvester, Magritte: The Silence of the World, New York, 1992, p. 212).

From 1936, iterations from Magritte's series of painted Venuses were to be each named The Brass Handcuffs or Les menottes de cuivre. This title was provided by André Breton, co-founder of the Surrealist movement, at Magritte's behest. The Future of Statues came to refer to the series of death masks. The specific version of the Venus included in the show at the Palais des Beaux-Arts was either lost or destroyed and another one was produced around the same date. Magritte had been creating such objects for at least two to three years prior to the exhibition; plaster casts are extremely fragile and Magritte painted many more than survived.

Magritte created several paintings and sculptures based on the Louvre's canonical Venus de Milo beyond the Les menottes de cuivre series, such as La statue volante (1932-1933) and Le galet (1948). Magritte referenced and appropriated fragmented ancient Greco-Roman statuary throughout his oeuvre but also drew inspiration in depicting the female nude from a life plaster cast which was featured in a number of works, including La belle de nuit and Quand l'heure sonnera (both executed in 1932), and La lumière des coincidences (1933). In addition to drawing inspiration from antique sculpture and contemporary anatomical casts, Magritte also enlisted his wife Georgette Berger as a life model for several paintings.

The present lot is defined by its spectacular, grand presence and layered conceptual complexity. This authorized posthumous sculpture stands at nearly seven feet tall, slightly larger than the original classical statue, which is six feet and eight inches tall and made of Parian marble. While Magritte experimented with painting on readymade objects such as the kitsch, diminutively scaled, mass-produced plaster Venus de Milo reproductions or even ordinary wine and liqueur bottles – even more banal and standardized as everyday objects – the limited edition of the present lot was cast at a foundry in the elevated material of bronze.

The polychrome surface echoes Magritte's early versions of the sculpture: a white face, unnaturally peach-pink torso, dark brown underscoring where the figure's arms are truncated, and deep midnight blue drapery. Magritte subverts the viewer's assumptions and understanding regarding white, monochrome classical sculpture. Ironically, modern scholars are now revealing how these uniformly pale classical sculptures were once painted in bold and brilliant colors, a discourse once suppressed by eighteenth-century art historians such as Johann Winckelmann. When considered in the context of modern scholarship asserting the ancient polychrome aesthetic, does Magritte's uncanny sculpture ultimately rehabilitate rather than subvert the image? Magritte's Les menottes de cuivre – in its subject matter, scale, and materials – addresses concepts of high versus low culture, appropriation, and subversion through the Surrealist lens.

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