Viewing Room

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Untitled (Woman's Face Covered by a Rose)

31.1 x 23.8 cm (12 ¹/₄ x 9 ³/₈ inches)
Gouache on Paper
Signed 'Magritte' upper left

Gualtieri di San Lazzaro (commissioned from the artist)
Vittorio de Sica (purchased from the above)
Galleria La Medusa, Rome
Private Collection, Rome (since 1979)
Private Collection, New York

- David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, IV: Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés 1918-1967, London, 1994, no. 1575, illustrated
- XXe siècle Aux sources de l’Imaginaire, Paris, No. 25, June 1965, illustrated in color on the cover

This work was done in January 1965 for Gualtieri di San Lazzaro, proprietor of XXe Siècle, to be used as a cover for the magazine. Magritte had produced a lithograph of Les bijoux Indiscrets (Gilbert E. Kaplan and Timothy Baum, The Graphic Work of René Magritte, New York, 1982, no. 3) for the magazine in 1963, and it was as a result of seeing his exhibition in Paris in December 1964 that San Lazzaro offered this second commission.

He evidently asked for something on the theme of ‘the imaginary’, since Magritte at first turned him down: “I attach no real value to the imaginary.” After receiving a second letter he agreed to do the gouache as long as it was about ‘the imagination’ and not the imaginary, as he explained in a brief homily:

‘Je ne peux penser que 'l’Imaginaire se réclame du réel': j'ai dû mal m'exprimer dans ma lettre. 
Si l'imaginaire s'en réclamait: il serait réel, je crois? Imaginaire et Réel seraient deux termes équivalents, soit un non-sens. 
Tout serait bien dans votre projet si au lieu du mot: Imaginaire, le mot Poésie était en question. Selon ma conviction, elle se réclame en effet du réel - elle n'est pas "imaginaire'. Seule, la soi-disant poésie est indifférente comme 'l'imaginaire'. 
Les sources de l'imaginaire consistent en une bêtise assez répandue, en une confusion stérile. 
L'imagination est, elle, la source - avec l'esprit - de ce que l'on appelle les belles choses qui nous charment. 
L'imagination véritable n'est pas responsable de ce que l'art comporte de niaiseries.
Il n'y a donc pas lieu de confondre Imagination et Imaginaire.’

‘I cannot think that ‘the Imaginary depends upon the real’. I must have expressed myself badly in my letter.
If the imaginary depended upon the real: it would be real, I think? Imaginary and Real would be two equivalent terms, that is, a nonsense. Everything would be right in your project if instead of the word Imaginary, the word Poetry were being used. According to my conviction, poetry certainly depends upon the real. it is noy ‘imaginary’. Only so-called poetry is of indifferent value like ‘the imaginary’.
The sources of the imaginary are to be found in a fairly widespread stupidity, in a sterile confusion.
It is the imagination which – together with the wit- is the source of things of beauty, as they are called, which delight us.
True imagination is not responsible for whatever idiocies may be included in art. There should, then, be no confusion between Imagination and the Imaginary.’

As late as 14 January he wrote to Bosmans that he had not made up his mind whether to do a woman’s face hidden by a rose or a variant of La condition humaine. On the 19th he wrote again, saying he had done the image Bosmans preferred: “This image will go “well” with an apologia for the imaginary. (It is no more imaginary than a “realistic” scene, but I believe it to be very poetic.)’
He sent the gouache to San Lazzaro on 20 January, having written the previous day that it was in the magazine’s format and that the blocks could be made either to the same size (and without any white border) or, what he felt would show it to advantage, slightly reduced, so that there would be a white border of 3 or 4 mm around the image. The issue duly appeared in June, and the gouache was reproduced on the cover without any border.
It is a unique image, but is related to several works, including La grande guerre, and L’homme au chapeau melon, which latter was also reproduced in the article on Magritte in the same issue of XXe siècle, written by Pierre Volboudt.