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Mystery of missing Magritte painting connected to Norwich Castle is finally solved

PUBLISHED: 19:28 15 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:01 23 November 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

The mystery of what happened to a missing Magritte painting has led art experts from New York to Stockholm to Norwich. And now, the final part of the jigsaw has been found in Brussels, arts correspondent Emma Knights reports.

The only known photograph of La Pose Enchantée, 1927, by René Magritte.
Image: From the Catalogue Raisonné.The only known photograph of La Pose Enchantée, 1927, by René Magritte. Image: From the Catalogue Raisonné.

Norwich Castle found itself at the centre of a major art mystery spanning continents when one of its paintings was discovered to be concealing part of a missing work by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte.

The Human Condition - the only Magritte work in the castle’s collection - was discovered to have been painted over a quarter of Magritte’s earlier 1927 work, The Enchanted Pose, when it was undergoing conservation work in preparation for an exhibition in Paris.

The amazing find in 2016 led to it becoming the third part of an intriguing jigsaw puzzle into what had happened to The Enchanted Pose, a painting of two nudes which had been presumed lost since 1932 and was last known to have been exhibited in Brussels in 1927.

Other parts of the 80-year-old puzzle had previously been uncovered in New York and Stockholm - and now art experts have finally solved the riddle of what became of the final quarter of the The Enchanted Pose.

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

The last section - the top right of the painting - became the canvas for Magritte’s work God is not a Saint, a painting from 1935-6 which is currently hanging on one of the walls of the Magritte Museum in Brussels.

The discovery was recently made by experts working on the major research project Magritte On Practice, a collaboration between the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and the University of Liège.

They made the discovery last month using radiographic imaging which gave an insight into what lay behind the brush strokes of God is not a Saint.

“It’s absolutely amazing - it never moved from Brussels, it has been there all the time,” said Dr Giorgia Bottinelli, curator of historic art at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

René Magritte, “God is not a Saint”, 1935-36, oil on canvas, 67,2 x 43 cm, RMFAB, Brussels inv. 11681. Copright: Succession René Magritte c/o SABAM © ULiège.René Magritte, “God is not a Saint”, 1935-36, oil on canvas, 67,2 x 43 cm, RMFAB, Brussels inv. 11681. Copright: Succession René Magritte c/o SABAM © ULiège.

“I am just absolutely delighted that finally we know where all the pieces of The Enchanted Pose are and we know that none of the pieces were destroyed, that it was cut into four pieces as we thought and the quarters were painted over with new paintings.”

She added: “It is good that the paintings can be reunited - virtually if not physically - and who knows in the future there might be scope to tell the story with all the newer paintings in the same room with all the details of the scientific research - that would be amazing.”

The Human Condition - painted in 1935 and perhaps fittingly featuring a canvas within a canvas - is currently on show at Norwich Castle until July 1 next year in a display highlighting the story of all the paintings involved in the mystery of The Enchanted Pose.

Until now it has been an unfinished story, but now Dr Bottinelli is looking forward to adding the details of its conclusion.

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

“It’s great to be able to tell the whole story now,” she said.

As we previously reported, Norwich Castle’s part in the mystery of the missing painting began in February 2016 when conservator Alice Tavares da Silva examined The Human Condition.

She discovered the painting’s edges were painted with form and colour that appeared to be unrelated to the painting. Research led her to a report from conservators at New York’s Museum of Modern Art which described a similar finding in 
2013 involving the 1935 Magritte work, The Portrait. When the painting was X-rayed, part of a female nude was discovered underneath which was the upper-left quarter of The Enchanted Pose. This led to Magritte’s The Red Model, at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, being scrutinised – and the lower-left quarter of The Enchanted Pose was found. Ms Tavares da Silva said at the time: “I realised there were striking similarities between the Norwich painting and these two other works by Magritte, notably size and the date of execution. More so, the paint visible on the edges seemed to relate very closely to the composition of The Enchanted Pose. I was then able to superimpose an image of an exposed edge with the black and white illustration of La Pose Enchantée and conclude the Norwich painting was painted over the lower right quarter of the original composition. It was a hugely exciting discovery.”

And now, the intriguing story of what happened to The Enchanted Pose - which has taken in New York, Stockholm and Norwich along the way - has reached its conclusion back where it first began, in the capital city of Magritte’s home country of Belgium.

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

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

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