January 29, 2017

Magritte painting long known only from a black-and-white photograph has been found... but you'll never get to see it.

"The Enchanted Pose, which showed two almost identical female nudes side by side in a neoclassical style, was exhibited in 1927 but disappeared."

Magritte cut it in 4 pieces and reused the canvas, not painting on the reverse side, but on top of the painted image, which I assume he didn't like. (It's not that good.)

The first 2 pieces were discovered in 2013, under "The Portrait" in the Museum of Modern Art and under "The Red Model" in the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Now, a third piece has been found, under "The Human Condition" at the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the University of Cambridge, whose historic art curator Dr. Giorgia Bottinelli say:
"If it was technically possible [to extract the hidden painting] it would certainly be unethical, as it was Magritte himself that decided to cut up one of his paintings and then create new compositions over the fragments.... The preservation of the artist's intention is in my opinion our main priority. Non-invasive and non-destructive imaging techniques will enable us to make a reconstructed image of the hidden painting."
Certainly unethical?! I find that hard to believe. Does a principle of the "artist's intention" require us to look away from artwork he didn't choose to preserve for display? If so, why are we looking at the black-and-white photograph of it? How do we know he preferred "The Human Condition" (just because he hadn't cut it up or painted over it yet)? If we found a stash of Magritte's preparatory sketches in a portfolio labeled "Do not display. These sketches are to be burned" would we follow his instructions?

What should we do with a portfolio labeled "Do not display. These sketches are to be burned"?
 
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31 comments:

Laslo Spatula said...

"If we found a stash of Magritte's preparatory sketches in a portfolio labeled "Do not display. These sketches are to be burned" would we follow his instructions? "

If a suspected murderer had left an envelope labeled "Do not view. These photographs are to be burned" would we follow his instructions?

Asking for a friend.

I am Laslo.

traditionalguy said...

They could sue, but what would be the damages. Maybe Eternal Embarrassment theory of Damages, with a treble damages add on if the dead person is female?

campy said...

Poll needs an option 6: Impeach Trump.

Unknown said...

After my wife's grandfather passed, the family found two bundles of letters hidden in the attic. These were the letters he had written to his wife while fighting in Germany during WW2. He had outlived her by a decade, but the "family history" was that after the war, he had asked her to destroy all of the letters.

They placed both bundles of letters, unopened, in the coffin with him.

Latter I told my wife that I would have preferred that the letters had been sent to the Smithsonian, but it wasn't my decision so I stayed silent.

dustbunny said...

I vote for only to be viewed by serious researchers. If the artist is considered to be historically important then that trumps the artists wishes. The sketches could throw a different light on a period that had previously been viewed in a particular way. If some undiscovered cache of da Vinci drawings turned up with a note to burn them, who would do that?

PB said...

looking at the photo image, I'd cut it up and paint it over myself.

FleetUSA said...

I voted the last option: display and keep. They are part of an artist's history and evolution.

Jeff said...

Get Scarlett Johansson to pose for some large-format nude photos and hang them instead.

Bonkti said...


'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

I believe that an artist has the right to choose not to have a lie attached to his or her name.

Poor Harper Lee.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Keep it hidden. Artists deserving the label are married to their work, and we don't make spouses testify against one another, now do we?

As long as she spins, Earth is equivalent to infinite for and to the human mind, so find something else to get your knickers pressed.

Bryan Townsend said...

You are confusing two different senses of the word "intention". Beardsley, in a famous essay on The Intentional Fallacy points out that the artist's aesthetic intentions are irrelevant as the only thing we have to work with is the aesthetic object itself. But a request from an artist to burn a folio of sketches is not an aesthetic intention, it is a request for courtesy like saying "Don't step on my toe". Your discussion is solely from the consumer's point of view.

Mike said...

If you are a friend or associate you should burn it out of respect for your friend. If you are stranger, then if he wanted them burned he should have burned them before he died.

Rusty said...

Sorry pal, you're dead. You don't get a vote.

Darrell said...

Dead men only get a vote in the Democrat Party.

Darrell said...

Poll needs an option 6: Decertify the Democrat Party.

Darrell said...

Magritte should have hooked up with that Ecce Homo restorer in Spain. Just think of the masterpieces they could have done together.

David said...

Those are two very menacing nudes. They might be a useful symbol in the war against the patriarchy.

Fernandinande said...

Laslo Spatula said...
If a suspected murderer had left an envelope labeled "Do not view. These photographs are to be burned" would we follow his instructions?


If the murderer, er, alleged murderer, was an artist you must do what she says.

mockturtle said...

The decision should be made by MOMA and others in possession of the pieces.

Bonkti said...

It ma be worth noting that "The Enchanted Pose"-- which seems to be both a celebration and de-mythologizing of the classical perspective-- appeared for a moment, then became the sedimentary foundation for an understanding of "The Human Condition" which in turn, seems to focus simultaneously on the immediate, the past and the distant, all dwarfed by eternal nature.

There is much that may be read into this, in the sense that there are no accidents. But then sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

ddh said...

If Magritte wanted sketches destroyed, he should have destroyed them himself. If Kafka wanted his novels burned, he should have burned them himself. If Virgil didn't want anyone to read the Aeneid, he shouldn't have told his friends on his deathbed that they should burn it before reading.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

The general rule of thumb that feels right to me to apply to such dilemmas would be to not look at them, but to preserve them so they may be displayed after a few hundred years or so, if people then feel like looking at them. But as to the painted-over painting, if he he painted over the old painting just because he couldn't afford new canvases, then that is a different matter.

Owen said...

He's dead. What little he made in his life is all we will ever have: both "too much information" (all the debris of a life, old notes and used clothes, unpaid bills, glorious masterpieces, embarrassing sketches from which, through death, embarrassment is forever absent) and "so little information" (mostly irrelevant to artistic curation and scholarship).

Why destroy information? Somebody might be interested in it someday. So I voted to keep it.

Should it be shown to the public or hoarded for study by some elite? How does showing it to the public injure the elite? So I vote for public showing.

Should it be shown in any fashion or should it have a wall card/annotation? I think half of the interest lies in the tension between the artist's intention and the work that escaped his intention. It is so very human. If I saw that annotation, I would want to read (or write) a whole BOOK on the artist and this intention and the way it did not play out. So, definitely, annotate it.

John said...

Bernard Crick wrote a bio of George Orwell in the 80s. In it he told us that Orwell had requested that no bios be written about him.

A shame since he had an interesting life.

I did finish the bio since I'd paid$20 for it.

I felt dirty for doing so a d never reread it.

John Henry

stever said...

In the time it too to write the note they could have been burned. Pay no more attention . Burn them, this was a meant to increase their value.

rcocean said...

"If Magritte wanted sketches destroyed, he should have destroyed them himself. If Kafka wanted his novels burned, he should have burned them himself. If Virgil didn't want anyone to read the Aeneid, he shouldn't have told his friends on his deathbed that they should burn it before reading."

Agree. Artists like that should follow the example Martha Gellhorn. She didn't want her letters to her ex-husband E. Hemingway to be published so she burned them, publicly, when she in her 80s.

wildswan said...

"If Magritte wanted sketches destroyed, he should have destroyed them himself."

Plus with self conscious modernists such notes may be part of a projected art exhibit in the artist's mind. Of course, I wouldn't go to the exhibit or look at the pictures. But I have an attitude, not a nice one, toward most modern art.

Laurel Lowrey said...

As a private citizen (and person), I would naturally want my wishes respected.

As for public individuals? They want to present the world with an image, their chosen, honed, preferred image. Their 'truth'.

If I choose to look, I want to see all of it.

NB: Jefferson destroyed his letters, another form of 'truth'.

urbane legend said...

ddh said...
If Virgil didn't want anyone to read the Aeneid, he shouldn't have told his friends on his deathbed that they should burn it before reading.


Will that darken the print, or bring out some hidden message? Otherwise it sounds like quite a challenge.

mockturtle said...

urbane says: Will that darken the print, or bring out some hidden message?

;-) I seem to recall a childhood 'experiment' where we wrote a message on paper using lemon juice, which was invisible, then exposed it to a heat source which brought forth the message clearly. My friends and I enjoyed playing spies.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Plus with self conscious modernists such notes may be part of a projected art exhibit in the artist's mind.

Wasn't Magritte Mr. "Ceci n'est pas une pipe?" Yeah, it's a come-on.

I suppose to guard against the possibility of scandal you could have one trusted expert review the work, but it sounds more like a PT Barnum pitch, or one of those theaters in the fifties that had nurses taking your blood pressure before you could go see a horror movie.