“There is this mystery about people when they leave us…”
René Magritte designed theater sets in Brussels in the early 1920s for Theatre du Groupe Libre. The Lost Jockey is one of many theatre settings with a curtain that Magritte produced in his early works. It also uses bilboquets that resemble trees with musical notation as bark, possibly as a tribute to Mesens, the pianist and composer and his brother Paul, a musician who studied with Mesens.
Magritte first tackled the theme of Le jockey perdu in 1926, a watershed period for the artist, in which he suddenly found a means of exposing the mysteries of the world, the poetic associations between the objects that form our reality and which we take all too much for granted. His strange juxtapositions challenged the viewer, demanding that we consider afresh the properties of the everyday elements of the world around us. So, in this gouache of Le jockey perdu, it can be seen the racetrack that would usually play host to a jockey is absent, the racer taken out of context. At the same time, a strange new planet hovers as though within the atmosphere of the Earth; this ball has replaced the sun and the moon; its looming presence adds a cosmic oddness to the entire picture.
It is a tribute to the importance of this theme that Magritte himself would write, with reference to his original oil of the subject, that Le jockey perdu (The Lost Jockey) “is the first canvas I really painted with the feeling I had found my way, if one can use that term”. Magritte’s own revelation had occurred when he had seen a painting by Giorgio de Chirico. Presenting the viewer with an eccentric assortment of seemingly unassociated objects, de Chirico’s Le chant d’amour introduced the viewer to a realm in which another hidden logic appeared dominant. While the mysticism of de Chirico did not influence Magritte, the break with perceived reality and the use of juxtapositions did. For this reason, Magritte denied the open influence of de Chirico, making specific reference to his first version of Le jockey perdu:
“If one takes into consideration what I’ve painted since 1926 (Le jockey perdu-1926– for example, and what followed), I don’t think one can talk about ‘Chirico’s influence’ I was ‘struck’ about 1925 when I saw a picture by Chirico Le chant d’amour. If there is any influence it’s quite possible there’s no resemblance to Chirico’s pictures in Le jockey perdu. In sum, the influence in question is limited to a great emotion, to a marvellous revelation when for the first time in my life I saw truly poetic painting. With time, I began to renounce researches into pictures in which the manner of painting was uppermost. Now, I know that since 1926 I’ve only worried about what should be painted. This became clear only some time after having ‘instinctively’ sought what should be painted”