Belgian Surrealist René Magritte developed a repertoire of private symbols that he continued to employ in new combinations throughout his career. The bloodied white plaster bust first appeared in a painting of 1942 entitled Memory. It was accompanied by the ball, a wooden wall, and a cloud filled sky. In this treatment from 1950 the haunting bare tree has been added. The original French title was taken from Proust by the painter’s friend the writer, Paul Nougé, who also provided the following poetic interpretation:
As walls recede, as daylight recedes, as palpable shadows recede, as the music of the branches and of inevitable mental tracery recedes, as youth recedes, our memory bleeds and smiles.
The painting was purchased in New York in 1951 by the great choreographer George Balanchine and his wife the dancer, Tanaquil Le Clercq. It is fitting that they have donated it to the Wadsworth Atheneum, since it was through the efforts of this museum’s director, A. Everett “Chick” Austin, Jr., that Balanchine was able to come to America in 1933 with the hope of founding a new ballet company in Hartford. Although this was not to be, Balanchine did present the premiers of several of his works in the Atheneum’s theater in 1934.
The Fickleness of the Heart, 1950
Oil on canvas; 32 x 25 in.
Gift of Tanaquil Le Clercq and George Balanchine, 1998.48.1.