René Magritte

The Reckless Sleeper

1928

Original title
Le Dormeur téméraire
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1160 x 810 x 20 mm
frame:1380 x 1027 x 100 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1969
Reference
T01122

Display caption

A figure sleeps in a wooden alcove above a dark cloudy sky. The way into this space is barred by a tablet embedded with everyday objects, which are displayed as in a children’s book. These objects are presented as if dreamed by the sleeper. As Magritte knew, some or all of them could also be read as Freudian symbols. This combination of different possible interpretations adds to the painting’s suggestion of unease and disorientation. It was painted when Magritte was closest to the French Surrealist group, having moved temporarily to Paris from Brussels.

Gallery label, December 2005

Technique and condition

The painting is executed on a very fine Belgian linen canvas which has been heavily sized. The glue is visible from the reverse. The weave of the canvas is fairly open and a white ground is visible between the interstices. The ground seems to have been commercially applied in one even layer and to have been forced between the threads. There is a clear weave pattern visible on the canvas. The canvas does not appear to be on its original stretcher, as is pointed out by R. Perry in the 1969 report. There are numerous tack holes in the tacking edges which do not have corresponding holes in the stretcher. It is also a metric sized painting on an English stretcher and the picture has been restretched out of square.

The paint is applied with a brush and the brush strokes are clearly visible. It appears that the icons have been painted into the composition and the background then laid in around them. It seems to have been painted in one or two simple layers, working wet in wet. The brush strokes are used to describe the shapes and provide clear contours.

There is an uneven and discoloured varnish on the surface of the painting. It is possibly an artist's retouching varnish, but it has yellowed with time and is visually disturbing. There is a drip in the lower centre. There are numerous fragile, cupped, linear cracks. The canvas is very weak and is difficult to restretch for this very reason. It is supported from the reverse with a loose lining.

Annette King
May 2000

Catalogue entry

René Magritte 1898-1967

T01122 Le Dormeur téméraire (The Reckless Sleeper) 1927

Inscribed 'Magritte' b.l.
Oil on canvas, 45 1/2 x 32 (116 x 81)
Purchased from Claude Spaak (Special Grant-in-Aid) 1969
Prov: With Galerie Le Centaure, Brussels (purchased from the artist); Claude Spaak, Paris
Exh: Magritte, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, May-June 1933 (8), lent by Claude Spaak; René Magritte, Hugo Gallery, New York, May 1947 (10); Quelques Artistes Belges depuis Ensor, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, April-September 1958 (83); L'Oeuvre de René Magritte, Casino, Knokke-Le Zoute, July-August 1962 (15, repr.); René Magritte, Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 1965-February 1966 (4, repr.) dated 1927; Rose Art Museum, Waltham, Mass., April-May 1966 (4, repr.); Art Institute of Chicago, May-July 1966 (4, repr.); Pasadena Art Museum, August-September 1966 (4, repr.); University Art Museum, University of California Museum, Berkeley, October-November 1966 (4, repr.); Six Peintres Surréalistes, Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, March-April 1967 (49, repr.); Le Muse Inquietanti: Maestri del Surrealismo, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Turin, November 1967-January 1968 (204, repr.); Magritte, Tate Gallery, February-March 1969 (8, repr. in colour) dated 1927; Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, May-June 1969 (6, repr. in colour); Kunsthaus, Zurich, June-July 1969 (6, repr. in colour); Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, Hayward Gallery, London, January-March 1978 (9.31, repr.)
Lit: Louis Scutenaire, René Magritte (Brussels 1947), pp.90, 92
Repr: London Gallery Bulletin, No.1, April 1938, p.13; Marcel Jean, The History of Surrealist Painting (London 1960), p.182 in colour; Patrick Waldberg, René Magritte (Brussels 1965), p.168

David Sylvester points out that this picture is one of a number done towards the end of 1927 or early in 1928 with the motifs of molten lead and/or wood planking with a conspicuous grain. It was not among the 23 paintings in Magritte's exhibition at the Galerie l'Epoque in Brussels which opened on 7 January 1928 (the pictures for which were despatched from Paris in mid-December) and seems therefore to have been executed either at the very end of 1927 or, more probably, in the first weeks of 1928. It must be of about the same period as 'The Missing Woman!' (which also has forms stamped into a wall), 'The Salutary Promise' (which has both molten lead and wood-graining), 'The Principal Confidence' (which has wood-graining) and 'The Familiar Objects'. In 'The Reckless Sleeper' a number of objects, a bowler hat, an apple, a mirror, a bird, a bow and a lighted candle (all recurrent images in his work) are embedded in relief, while in 'The Familiar Objects' a sponge, a small jug, a sea-shell, a bow and a lemon each appear hovering in front of the eyes of a man.

The sleeping man in a sort of coffin appears again much later in 'The Cape of Storms' of 1964, in which the coffin is depicted in a desert landscape dominated by an enormous stone.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.460-1, reproduced p.460