René Magritte

The Future of Statues


Not on display

René Magritte 1898–1967
Original title
L'Avenir des statues
Oil paint on plaster
Object: 330 × 165 × 203 mm
Purchased 1981

Display caption

  1. This work is made from a plaster copy of the death mask of the French Emperor Napoleon. A death mask is made by placing a mixture of plaster or wax over a person's face once they have died to create a mould. Magritte painted at least five of these casts, each with sky and clouds. The artist’s friend the surrealist poet Paul Nougé suggested an association between death, dreams and the depth of the sky. He commented: ‘a patch of sky traversed by clouds and dreams [can] transfigure the very face of death in a totally unexpected way’.

Gallery label, August 2020

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed on neck ‘Magritte’ bottom left
Oil on plaster relief, 13 × 6 1/2 × 8 (33 × 16.5 × 20)
Purchased at Christie's (Grant-in-Aid) 1981
Prov: Edward James (acquired from the artist by 1938) sold at Christie's, London, 30 March 1981, lot 9 colour
Exh: Follies and Fantasies, Brighton Art Gallery and Museum, May–August 1971 (230); Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, Hayward Gallery, January–March 1978 (13.11, repr.p.341); Rétrospective Magritte, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, October–December 1978, and Centre Pompidou, Paris, January–April 1979 (199, repr.)
Lit: London Gallery Bulletin, no.1, April 1938, p.8; Paul Nougé, René Magritte ou les Images Défendues, Brussels 1943, pp.35–6; A.M. Hammacher, Magritte, 1974, p.102, colour p.103; Twenty-Eight Works from the Edward James Collection (sale catalogue), Christie's, London, 30 March 1981, lot 9, colour
Repr: The Tate Gallery: Illustrated Biennial Report 1980–82, 1983, p.43 in colour

David Sylvester writes (letter to the compiler, 20 December 1982): 'In 1937, from mid-February until about the end of March, Magritte stayed at 35 Wimpole Street, the London house of Edward James, in order to carry out a commission for three large paintings. Georgette Magritte told the authors of the Catalogue Raisonné of René Magritte that this plaster cast was painted while he was there. “J'avais fait envoyé de Bruxelles le masque en plâtre, René voulant l'offrir à James.”

'Plaster reproductions of Napoleon's death-mask were stocked by Maison Berger, the artists' materials shop belonging to Georgette Magritte's sister, Léontyne Hoyez Berger. Magritte is known to have painted five of these casts with sky and clouds, at least four of which are extant. The first of these casts dates, in the opinion of the compilers of the Catalogue Raisonné, from c.1931.’

Nougé refers to ‘plasters of Napoleon, Robespierre or Pascal’ in a passage entitled ‘...Et l'Avenir des Statues’ (op.cit.). There is a photograph by Norman Parkinson dated 1939 showing the head of Edward James, in profile and with eyes closed, juxtaposed with T03258 (Norman Parkinson: Fifty Years of Portraits and Fashion [exh. catalogue], National Portrait Gallery, August–October 1981, no.2, repr.).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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