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80-Year-Old Mystery Cracked As Final Missing Piece Of Magritte Painting Found

A man stands in front of a projection of the virtually recomposed painting "The Enchanted Pose" by René Magritte at The Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium on Tuesday.

An enigma that has beguiled art enthusiasts for more than eight decades has finally been solved, after Belgian researchers announced they had found the fourth and final missing piece of René Magritte's "The Enchanted Pose."

Using x-ray imaging, researchers with the University of Liège and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium spotted the upper right corner of the work underneath Magritte's 1935 to 1936 painting "God is not a Saint" last month. The surrealist had simply painted over it.

"The Enchanted Pose" was cut into four pieces in 1932 and seemingly was gone for good. But in 2013, x-ray images showed conservators the first piece of the puzzle under yet another Magritte work at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Pieces number two and three were located under Magritte works at museums in Sweden and England. The latest find completes the puzzle.

"When we realized what it was, we just looked at each other in shock," David Strivay, a professor at the University of Liège, told the BBC.

Once only known through a black-and-white photograph,"The Enchanted Pose," painted in 1927, depicts two nudes leaning on columns, side by side. Because physically restoring it would involve destroying the other works painted over it, the image is now on display in virtual form at the Magritte Museum in Brussels.

So why was the original painting ever destroyed? Presumably it was the work of a frugal artist looking to recycle the canvas. As the BBC reports, "Experts say a penniless Magritte cut up the painting because he could make more money from four than one during the post-crash 1930s."

Magritte played an important role in the surrealist movement and is well known for his "The Treachery of Images" painting of a pipe, with "This is not a pipe," written underneath.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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