Le Principe du Plaisir

René Magritte • Painting, 1937, 73×54.5 cm
About the artwork
This artwork was added since it is referred to in the materials below
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Portrait
Style of art: Surrealism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1937
Size: 73×54.5 cm
Artwork in selections: 95 selections
Audio guide

Description of the artwork «Le Principe du Plaisir»

Picture The Pleasure Principlewritten in 1937, showcases several recognizable themes in the work of Rene Magritte: visual and intellectual paradox, the supernatural change of the familiar, and the tension between the visible and the hidden. This is a portrait of Edward James, an aristocrat and heir to millions who has developed into an eccentric poet and influential patron of the Surrealists. In 1937 Salvador Dali introduced him to Magritte, and within two years James commissioned the artist several paintings, including two portraits - this work and "Reproduction prohibited".

Magritte had introduced the concept of the Pleasure Principle even before meeting James. In 1936, he made a similar ink sketch on the first page of a manuscript book dedicated to the surrealist poet Paul Eluard.

In June 1937, the artist wrote to James: “I made a painting depicting a person whose head is light ... I suppose this is a preliminary sketch, in reality the painting still needs to be painted. But since it is meant for you, don't you think it should have a recognizable personality on it? If you like the idea, all you need to do is take a full-face photo at the table with arms crossed lying on it, and put some stone on the right, not too far from your hand. "... James commissioned another surrealist to take such a picture - Manu Ray... When Magritte completed the painting in September and sent it to the client, he wrote in response: "My friend and I think this is a huge success, in fact a brilliant job.".

The Pleasure Principle embodies Magritte's interest in what is hidden in our visual reality. Throughout his career, the artist has used surreal imagery that opposes our passion for hidden, in particular - hidden faces. The apple covers the face of the man in the iconic painting "Son of man"and white bedspreads are heroes "Lovers"... In one of his few interviews (and Magritte could not stand publicity and discussions about his work), the artist said: “Everything visible hides something; we always want to see what is hidden behind what we see. This interest can take the form of a rather contradictory feeling, a kind of conflict between the visible-hidden and the visible-obvious "... In The Pleasure Principle, he builds this collision on one paradox: we need light to see, not obscure the face of a person in a dark room - just as we expect the mirror to reflect, not hide the face on the canvas “Reproduction prohibited” ...

The title of the painting refers to a key element of Freudian psychoanalysis, which served as the philosophical foundation for the Surrealist movement. However, Magritte himself warned against interpreting and analyzing his names: “The names of the paintings are not explanations, and the paintings are not illustrations of the names. The connection between the name and the image is poetic, that is, it only reflects some of the features of the topic that we usually do not realize, but sometimes intuitively understand when unusual events occur that cannot be explained logically ".

Edward James, poet and passionate collector, played a special role in the development of Surrealism, supporting artists such as Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Pavel Chelischev, Leonor Fini and Leonora Carrington... He provided space for creativity to his fellow painters, in particular, the first three lived and worked for a long time in his houses in Sussex and London. James has made many orders, creating one of the world's finest collections of surreal art (read more about him in the article Arthive "The Magic Garden of Edward James - Patron Saint of the Surrealists").

The Pleasure Principle remained in the collection of Edward James until 1964, when it was transferred to the Foundation he founded. In 1979, the canvas was bought by another private collector - and it remained in the same hands for nearly forty years. In November 2018, the painting was put up for auction at Christie's with a preliminary estimate of $ 15-20 million. The final price (including the premium) was 26.8 million, which was the auction record for the creations of Rene Magritte.

Author: Vlad Maslov