Le civilisateur, June 1944
Brook Street Gallery, London, by 1962.
Arturo Schwarz, Milan, acquired from the above in 1962.
Roberto Crippa (1921 – 1972), Italy, acquired from the above.
Private Collection, Switzerland, acquired from the above.
Their sale; Wannennes Art Auctions, Milan, 12 Dec. 2019, lot 5.
Private Collection, acquired at the above sale.
S. Whitfield, D. Sylvester & M. Raeburn, René Magritte, Catalogue Raisonné: Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes 1931 – 1948, London, 1993, vol. II, p. 338, no. 561 (illus.)
In December 1965, while planning his first and only trip to the United States – at the invitation of his lawyer, the collector Harry Torcyzner, on the occasion of the Magritte retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York – René Magritte was worried not about his show, but about whether he’d be allowed to bring his dog on the flight and to his hotel. Magritte and his wife Georgette were devoted to their pets, from the time of their marriage in June 1922 until Georgette’s death in 1986; the couple, who never had children, adopted a series of white Pomeranian-Spitz dogs. Le civilisateur, the first of a series of related paintings in oil and gouache, depicts Jackie (the second Jackie, in fact, and the couple’s third Pomeranian).
A preparatory drawing on a postcard to the artist’s friend and fellow Surrealist Marcel Mariën, dating from 10 June 1944, is inscribed: ‘J’ai commencé un nouveau tableau de l’ordre du cheval: avec un enthousiasme rare et de bon aloi. Nougé, qui a vu la chose commencée, le trouve de la plus grande importance. Il est curieux, me semble-t-il, de voir la figure humaine usée, puis les objets, remplacés par des animaux qui semblent les mieux suggérer la vie.’ (I have started on a new picture in the horse series: with an enthusiasm which is unusual and of sound quality. Nougé, who has seen the initial stage, thinks the picture very important. It is curious, I think, to see the work-out human face, and then objects, replaced by animals which seem to give the strongest suggestion of life.’). In an earlier sketch which probably represents Magritte’s intial idea for the painting, the figure of Jackie may have been based on a photograph of the dog with Georgette Magritte.
Le civilisateur relies on Magritte’s Impressionist-like colouring, characteristic of his so-called ‘Renoir period’, which originated in 1943 as a response to the grim occupation of Belgium during the Second World War. The artist saw it as a way to bring sunshine to the wartime gloom. In its high degree of finish as well as its refined palette, Le civilisateur prefigures the technical achievements of Magritte’s paintings of the 1950s.
In the composition, Jackie is set in front of a classical temple that draws on a reference from Baudelaire, which imagines a forest as a temple with ‘living pillars’. As Sylvester points out, the temple is also similar to that in the background of Paul Delvaux’s Le temple (Le canapé vert), which was painted a few months earlier in January 1944. Sylvester suggests that it might be a deliberate reference on Magritte’s part, and a joking replacement of Delvaux’s characteristic reclining nude with a dog, although allowing as well that it may be purely coincidental.
Two months after painting Le civilisateur, in August 1944, Magritte realised a second version of the subject, in which the white dog appears in profile in front of a luminous landscape background (Sylvester no. 574). Magritte returned to this subject in 1946 but used the gouache technique on paper this time, situating Jackie against the background of a forest in the form of a castle (Sylvester no. 1208). This stylistic figure is not new in Magritte’s art, and had already been used in paintings such as La vie antérieure (1944; Sylvester no. 565) and Elseneur (1944; Sylvester no. 567).