Researchers have found the final piece of a painting by René Magritte that the artist scrapped, over 80 years ago, by cutting up its canvas into four surfaces he later reused. The last section of “La Pose enchantée (The Enchanted Pose)” (1927), which shows two identical nude women leaning against broken columns, has been hidden beneath the layers of paint of “God is Not a Saint,” an artwork Magritte made between 1935 and 1936 that depicts a bird on a brown shoe. The once-lost fragment came to light during the painting’s examination by a team comprised of individuals from the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (RMFAB) and the European Centre of Archaeometry of the University of Liège, as part of a comprehensive study of the collection at the Magritte Museum. Researchers announced the news yesterday at a press conference at the museum.
The existence of “La Pose enchantée” has long been known. It was actually exhibited in 1927 and critically acclaimed, according to The Guardian; a black-and-white photograph of the painting was published in the artist’s 1992 catalogue raisonné.
Yet, it was only in 2013 that physical traces of the painting surfaced. Its upper-left-hand corner emerged at the Museum of Modern Art, where conservators x-rayed “Le Portrait (The Portrait)” and found a hidden composition beneath the surrealist table setting. They began searching for other paintings that have the same size and date to the same year — 1935 — which led to another piece at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. The lower-left-hand corner of “La Pose enchantée” was found beneath the composition of “La Modèle Rouge (The Red Model),” an eerie painting of boots that also look like human feet. It took three more years for another quarter to surface: in 2016, conservation work on “La Condition Humaine (The Human Condition)” at the Norwich Castle Museum collection revealed another pair of legs and a column.
Now the puzzle is complete, thanks to researchers’ use of non-invasive techniques like physicochemical analysis and x-ray imaging. The question that still lingers, however, is why Magritte cut up “La Pose enchantée” in the first place. It’s likely that he wanted to save money and didn’t consider the finished work valuable enough. Recycling canvases to make new artworks was also a habit of Magritte’s (and a common practice among painters); given the fact that the locations of a number of his paintings are still unknown, it’s probable that other pieces of long-unseen artworks still lie hidden beneath celebrated tableaux.