Experts Have Discovered a Hidden Portrait by Magritte Underneath Another Famous Painting by the Artist

Image of a woman found underneath René Magritte, La cinquième saison (1943). Photo: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

Artnet_ A portrait of a mysterious woman has been found underneath a painting by Magritte thanks to the use of infrared reflectography. The sitter is believed to have been his wife Georgette.

Magritte eventually painted over the portrait with La Cinequième Saison (The Fifth Season) (1943), and it remained hidden for 80 years. The surface painting, a depiction of two men who are holding canvases and appear to be involved in the art trade, belongs to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels (RMFAB).

Though experts can’t be sure, they believe the woman in the original painting may be Magritte’s wife due to her likeness to other images of Georgette by the Belgian Surrealist, in which she is also shown with short, curly hair, an oval face, light eyes, and an unflinching gaze. It seems, however, that the depicted woman is a blonde, unlike Magritte’s wife. The couple married in 1922, having met while Georgette was working at an art supplies store.

René Magritte, La cinquième saison (1943). Photo: © Ch. Herscovici, avec son aimable autorisation co SABAM Belgium, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles, photo by J. Geleyns – Art Photography

Infrared reflectography is a non-invasive imaging technique, and acts like a more powerful x-ray that can “see” through paint layers when the human eye cannot. There are countless examples of hidden paintings that have been recovered thanks to these sophisticated scanning techniques.

In fact, this is not the first time that a hidden Magritte has resurfaced in recent memory. In 2016, curators at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery in England found part the 1927 painting La Pose Enchantée (The Enchanted Pose) beneath the painting La Condition Humaine (The Human Condition) (1935). The find solved the mystery of the missing painting, a nude that had only previously been known by a black-and-white photograph.

It is not uncommon for artists in the past to have recycled old canvases, especially when they were trying to save money.

The latest find is the result of a new research project into Magritte’s paintings held at RMFAB led by Catherine Defeyt and Francisca Vandepitte. The pair have also co-authored the new book René Magritte: The Artist’s Materials, which will be published this August by the Getty Conservation Institute as part of its “Artist Materials” series.