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Magritte painting at the centre of an international art mystery returns home to Norwich Castle

PUBLISHED: 18:15 05 July 2017 | UPDATED: 18:15 05 July 2017

Giorgia Bottinelli, curator of historic art at the Castle Museum, pictured with the Magritte painting La Condition Humaine. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Giorgia Bottinelli, curator of historic art at the Castle Museum, pictured with the Magritte painting La Condition Humaine. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

archant 2017

A Magritte masterpiece at the centre of an international art mystery has returned to Norwich Castle after being in shows in Paris and Frankfurt. Arts correspondent Emma Knights reports.

Rene´ Magritte 1898-1967 La Condition Humaine, 1935 
Oil on canvas, 54 x 73 cm  NWHCM : 1995.88.2
© ADAGP, ParisRene´ Magritte 1898-1967 La Condition Humaine, 1935 Oil on canvas, 54 x 73 cm NWHCM : 1995.88.2 © ADAGP, Paris

There was much excitement when a Magritte masterpiece at Norwich Castle was found to be hiding the latest clue in a major international mystery.

For as La Condition Humaine (The Human Condition) was being prepared to be loaned to the Centre Pompidou in Paris last year, the 1935 painting was discovered by conservator Alice Tavares da Silva to have been painted over the top of one quarter of René Magritte’s earlier artwork, La Pose Enchantée (The Enchanted Pose), which had been missing for more than 80 years.

The lost painting of two nudes by the Belgian Surrealist artist was last known to have been exhibited in Brussels in 1927 before at some point being cut up to create smaller canvases.

The discovery in Norwich - announced last September - was the latest part in a treasure hunt that has intrigued the art community around the world and which has also seen two other quarters found under paintings in New York and Stockholm.

La Pose Enchantée, by Rene Magritte The only known photograph of La Pose Enchantée, 1927 by René Magritte 1898-1967 From the Catalogue RaisonnéLa Pose Enchantée, by Rene Magritte The only known photograph of La Pose Enchantée, 1927 by René Magritte 1898-1967 From the Catalogue Raisonné

Ever since La Condition Humaine has been out on tour, first to Paris for a major Magritte retrospective and then on to Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle, and now it has returned home to Norwich Castle where an exhibition has been created dedicated to its amazing story.

“There are so many large collections of Surrealist work, and the fact that the third quarter of La Pose Enchantée was found in Norwich where we have just one Magritte painting is amazing,” said Dr Giorgia Bottinelli, curator of historic art at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

“It’s wonderful to have it back at the castle now, because when we found out about it we had to pack it away that next week and send it on its travels. We told everybody about it and then nobody was able to see it here, so it is great that we can now close the circle and bring it here and put it on display for everybody to see. It is an amazing painting anyway and it has such a lovely story as well now. I really hope that people will come and look at it for themselves.”

She added: “The exhibition includes a reproduction of La Pose Enchantée as well as x-ray images which our visitors will be able to examine to find clues to the hidden composition. The exhibition is now open in the Colman Project Space at the castle.”

Upside-down x-ray of Magritte's La Condition Humaine, clearly showing, on the left, the legs and hand of a woman and the base of a column, © Hamilton Kerr InstituteUpside-down x-ray of Magritte's La Condition Humaine, clearly showing, on the left, the legs and hand of a woman and the base of a column, © Hamilton Kerr Institute

She continued: “When you look at the x-ray you can see the cave and the flames and the easel from La Condition Humaine but when you look closer you can also see some shapes which are unusual. Magritte painted on part of La Pose Enchantée upside down, and when you look closer at the x-ray you can see a shape that is obviously a hand and then there are some legs from La Pose Enchantée.”

Reproductions and x-rays of the two other paintings concealing parts of La Pose Enchantée - The Red Model from Stockholm’s Moderna Museet and The Portrait from New York’s Museum of Modern Art - are also featured in the exhibition and a space has been left to represent the final part of the jigsaw still to be found.

When asked how close experts were to finding the missing part of La Pose Enchantée, Dr Bottinelli said: “Colleagues as far as New York and Ghent are on the trail. Since last September, one painting in a private collection in the United States has been eliminated as a possible candidate. Somebody I know in Ghent in Belgium thinks she might have a couple of possibilities and they are both in private collections, so she is going to pursue that.”

But for now in Norwich it is all about our fine city’s piece of the La Pose Enchantée.

René Magritte 1898-1967
The Portrait, 1935
Oil on canvas, 73 x 50 cm
Museum of Modern Art,
New YorkRené Magritte 1898-1967 The Portrait, 1935 Oil on canvas, 73 x 50 cm Museum of Modern Art, New York

“La Condition Humaine is a fantastic painting by a great Surrealist master and we have always felt very lucky to have it in our collection,” Dr Bottinelli.

“It was a wonderful surprise to find out last year that it is physically connected to other important Magritte paintings in New York and Stockholm by being painted on the same canvas. The discovery has also made many more people aware of the existence of La Condition Humaine at Norwich Castle, and we hope that they will be able to come and see it for themselves and learn more about its fascinating history.”

People can see La Condition Humaine in the main collection of Norwich Castle. Normal admission prices apply.

Alice Tavares da Silva is giving a talk on the painting at the castle next Wednesday at 5.30pm. Tickets £10. To book, email info@eastangliaartfund.org.uk

René Magritte 1898-1967
The Red Model, 1935
Oil on canvas, 72 x 48.5 cm
Moderna Museet,
StockholmRené Magritte 1898-1967 The Red Model, 1935 Oil on canvas, 72 x 48.5 cm Moderna Museet, Stockholm

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