Live Model

1952 | 3rd quarter 20th centuryGouache on paperH x L : 16.5 x 13 cm

This small gouache is a work by the Belgian Surrealist painter René Magritte. After studying at the Académie royale des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles, he worked under the influence of avant-garde movements such as Futurism, Cubism, Orphism and Expressionism. In 1923, he discovered the oeuvre of De Chirico. He gradually adopted Surrealist ideas and, in 1926, established contact with André Breton and the Parisian group.

From 1933 onwards, the artist began to conceive paintings in which he tried to find solutions to problems posed by objects, such as the problem of the sea, of the sun or of shoes. Doors are a subject he represented on several occasions, and in our work he did so for the first time.

The MNHA’s Living model is a gouache by Magritte from 1952. A year later, he created an oil painting with the same title. The two works are very similar, except for a few significant details. In the 1952 gouache, the door and the floor seem to be about to collapse, as if in an earthquake.In the version Magritte painted in 1953, he stabilized the image by levelling the floorboards so that the door and its frame, though deformed, appear solid and durable. This strengthens the message that this door is a door through which one cannot pass, thus creating a discrepancy between the object and its representation. This powerful Surrealist concept is both amusing and disturbing.

By detaching the meaning from the object itself, Surrealism exploits the possibilities of the subconscious, freeing the imagination by creating mental illusions. Magritte’s oeuvre questions its own nature as well as the impact a painter has on the images he creates. Painting is never the representation of a real object, but an impact of the painter’s mind on this object.

Mr John Roper presented the gouache to the MNHA in 1986 in memory of his wife Mrs Kay Roper “in gratitude for many happy hours spent in the museum”.

This Living model inspired a contemporary work entitled Plague and cholera by the artist couple Martine Feipel (*1975) and Jean Bechameil (*1964).

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