Paul McCartney visits Paris to buy Magritte paintings

April 1966 ?
Timeline More from year 1966
Paris, France

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In the spring of 1966, Paul McCartney met the art dealer Robert Fraser through his connection with John Dunbar and Dunbar’s then-wife, Marianne Faithfull.

Soon after, Paul accompanied Fraser to Paris to meet Alexander Iolas, a Greek-American art dealer who sold paintings by the Belgian artist René Magritte. Paul purchased two Magritte paintings to furnish his new home on Cavendish Avenue, where he moved in June 1966.

Circa June 1968, McCartney acquired another painting by Magritte through Robert Fraser: a green apple overlaid with the text “Au Revoir,” titled “Le Jeu De Mourre.” This painting inspired the logo of Apple, the company recently launched by The Beatles.

Robert Fraser was this gallery owner – the guy who got busted with The Stones. He’s a great guy, he died a few years ago, he was great. He was brilliant and I bought a couple of these Magritte paintings through Robert – dirt cheap. We didn’t think he was going to be famous one day. In fact I now think he’s the best surrealist. Certainly didn’t think he’d ever be that. He was just one that we all liked – the skies, the doves and the bowler hats.

Paul McCartney – From “The Paul McCartney World Tour” book – 1989

Paul visited Robert’s gallery and would often drop by his flat to see who was there and what was happening. Robert was a superb host; he always mixed the latest drinks, had the best drugs, and a room full of interesting people. Through Robert, Paul entered the world of art; he met Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton and, in the course of listening to their conversations, he learned a great deal about art appreciation. Paul: “The most formative influence for me was Robert Fraser. Obviously the other Beatles were very important but the most formative art influence was Robert. I expect people to die so I don’t feel a loss but there’s a vacuum where he used to be.” […]

It was not until he had his own house that Paul began collecting art. Robert Fraser took an active role in building Paul’s collection. Paul: ‘I was very interested in Magritte and Robert was interested in my interest in Magritte and he said, “Well, I know this gallery owner Iolas who’s his dealer in Paris.”‘ So, some time early in 1966, Paul and Robert flew to Paris. They checked into the Plaza Athenee on the Avenue Montaigne in the heart of haute-couture Paris, one of the most fashionable and snobbish hotels in France. […] Alexandra Iolas was an old friend of Robert’s from the Paris gay scene and had arranged a small dinner party in their honour at his apartment above his gallery on Boulevard St-Germain.

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

I’ve always loved Mr Magritte’s work and have admired him since the 1960s when I first became aware of his work. I love his paintings so much that I once took a trip to Paris to visit Magritte’s art dealer Alexander Iolas and had a very pleasant meal in his apartment above the gallery. We then went downstairs to see the paintings and I was able to select three pictures.

Paul McCartney – From Paul McCartney | News | New Feature: Paintings On The Wall – René Magritte (1898 – 1967), March 2015

Robert and I went over and had a very pleasant time. Iolas was a very urbane Parisian, a very nice man. There were a couple of other people there, including an older woman, it was very social. Just French friends of Iolas.

He had a couple of Nicholas Monro’s free-standing sheep which you used to see in houses in the sixties; people used to have them as sculptures. He had a couple of those and, also by Monro, he had a whacking great rhino, a full-sized rhinocerous, it was a cocktail cabinet. He would open the rhinocerous’s side and serve drinks, and we would all go, ‘Hah, hah, very funny!’ It was like a talking point. And after dinner and a couple of drinks, we wandered downstairs, where the whole place was just full of Magrittes. I was in seventh heaven. He was Magritte’s agent and I had my pick of Aladdin’s cave. Now being a sensible lad, I only chose two oils. They were about 30*40, decent-size pictures, the most expensive of which was £3,000.

I bought a big oil called “Gloria”, which was an upturned carp. When you look sideways at it it looks like a big hooded figure with one eye but when you look the other way at it it’s a carp, it’s a fish, in the shadows inside a castle keep and outside is the sky and clouds where we all want to be. I bought another, called “The Countess of Monte Cristo”, which is a painting showing a painted bottle alongside two ordinary wine bottles, very Magritte, very Surrealist. I didn’t know he painted actual bottles themselves till much later so I thought this was just a joke, the girl is on the bottle. A bottle came up at a studio sale. Paul Simon bought one, I know because I’ve visited him and seen it.

I wish I’d bought more now but the ones I got were very good. And then over the years, I’ve started to get this and that. It was lovely, lovely to be able to look through them all and looking back I remember I saw “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This Is Not a Pipe), one of the new series, which I nearly bought. I liked that a lot. It was the first time I’d heard of it. I liked the whole idea, ‘This is not a pipe.’ ‘Why?’ ‘It’s a painting of a pipe.’ ‘Oh yes, of course!’ That’s one of the big things I got from him.

My view now is that he was probably the greatest of the Surrealists. At the time I thought he was damn good but that there were more important Surrealists, but now I don’t think there are. Who is there? De Chirico? Dali? I personally don’t like their stuff quite as much. Of course, we were very into all the legends: how Magritte painted from nine until one and then had his lunch. Robert went to see him with Michael Cooper, and the greatest photograph of Michael Cooper’s is of the bell push. It just says ‘R. Magritte’.

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

Because [Robert] was gay, it raised a few small-minded eyebrows and funnily enough, one or two of them were from within the Beatles: ‘Hey, man, he’s gay, what you going off to Paris with him for? They’re gonna talk, you know. Tongues are going to wag.’ I said, ‘I know tongues are going to wag, but tough shit.’ I was secure about my sexuality. I always felt this is fine, I can hang with whoever I want and it didn’t worry me. I mean, we didn’t share a room or anything.

I love Paris. I can always go to Paris, it never alters for me, it’s my student dream. I’m an artist if I go to Paris; the smell of Gitanes, the women with hair under their arms and the way they’ve kept the buildings. I can get into all my fantasies.

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

I had this really great mate, he was the owner of a gallery called Robert Fraser and he really knew his art, so I could get advice from him. And I enjoyed looking at those René Magritte, Belgian painter, and he knew his dealer. So Robert said to me “do you want to come to Paris and we’ll have dinner with this dealer, he’s invited us?” I said, “yeah right”. It was funny because Robert was gay and I told some of my friends I’m going to Paris with Robert. They went “are you sure”. I said “I’m quite secure about my sexuality”. Anyway… And the guy’s name was Alexander Iolas. And so, we have dinner and everything, it was above the gallery, so we go downstairs in these little stairs. And there were all those great paintings. An he’s like, you know, someone who loves his work. And I could now afford to buy a couple. Now I couldn’t, I mean you know, they are like, wow. But they were like three thousand pounds and now they’re worth a bit more but, yes, that kind of started my love of art. And in all of that, I saw this Apple and what happened one day, Robert knowing I loved this, I was out in the background in London doing a little music video with Mary Hopkin actually and I was busy and Robert knew I was busy. So I came back in from the garden and he’d left this little painting, little oil by Magritte, propped up on the thing and he had left, he’d just gone so and then one of the painting was a green apple and written across within Magritte’s writing was “au revoir”. So that is the coolest most conceptual thing anyone’s ever done. So yeah that’s where it came from. So people say “why was the Apple”, because you know there was an Apple before Apple… It was “a is for Apple”, we just like that it was near the beginning of the alphabet. So on any list, it would come early.

Paul McCartney – From Paul McCartney in Casual Conversation from LIPA, 2018

From Wikipedia:

Alexander Iolas (March 26, 1908 – June 8, 1987) was an Egyptian-born Greek-American art gallerist and a significant collector of modern art works, who advanced the careers of René Magritte and many other artists. He established the modern model of the global art business, operating successful galleries in Paris, Geneva, Milan and New York.

Iolas was a living connection with twentieth-century art history. Born in Greece in the early years of the century, he had become a dancer and moved to Paris from Berlin after the rise of the Nazi Party. In Paris he became friendly with the great artists of the time, including Cocteau, Braque, Ernst, Magritte, and Picasso. In 1944 he gave up dance and entered the world of art as a dealer, collector, patron, and gallery owner. In 1952 he mounted Andy Warhol’s first solo exhibition and went on to have galleries in Paris, New York, Milan, Geneva, Madrid, Rome, and Athens. He was flamboyant, gay, rich, and influential.

From “Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year” by Steve Turner

From René Magritte – La Comtesse de Monte Cristo – Original Etching by Renè Magritte – 1966 at 1stDibs – René Magritte
La Comtesse de Monte Cristo – Original Etching by Renè Magritte – 1966

Last updated on December 2, 2023

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