A René Magritte painting title “La recherche de l’absolu” was sold for £657,250 ($1,055,544) by Christie’s at the “The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale” auction on February, 9 2011. Among the great surrealist works that were auctioned, René Magritte’s other painting “L’aimant” sold for the most, an amazing £4,745,250 including buyer’s premium.
Executed in 1960, La recherche de l’absolu shows one of René Magritte’s ‘Leaf-Trees’, a motif that recurred in many of his pictures, having first made its appearance in La géante of 1935. Here, though, the lush green of La géante has given way to a more autumnal appearance. Tackling the quandary of what a leaf-tree, which has veins instead of branches, would look like in Autumn, Magritte has shown it with the ‘branches’ barren. With the green gone, it resembles a leaf attached by insects, with the veins left intact, and adds a skeletal atmosphere of poetic decay, of the cycle of the seasons and by extension of life, to this picture. That ambience is emphasised by the setting red sun, which casts an evening pall over the barren, mountainous landscape and has allowed the red to filter into the sky.
There is an eloquent simplicity to the composition of La recherche de l’absolu, and it is perhaps for this reason that the artist revisited the theme, which he had originally conceived in a group of three paintings created in 1940. Perhaps the atmosphere of the Second World War had informed the originals; here, in the gouache, Magritte has revisited the composition of the first of those pictures (S. 481), yet has carried out various small changes too, as was usually his practice with his works on paper. Rather than re-create, he revisited, resulting in a new artwork. In this way, he has managed to create something that retains the quality of the ‘three very pure pictures’ he had discussed with clear pride in a letter to Claude Spaak two decades earlier (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, Vol.II, London, 1993, p. 282).