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Friday, 30 May 2014

René Magritte (1898 –1967): In Search for Meaning

By Alexandra A. Jopp

There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. MARGINALIA
by Edgar Allan Poe 1844-49

This is not René Magritte

Rene Magritte’s Symbolism Behind the Images
How often to us, covered by the daily routine, seems that life proceeds in a planned, established manner, and all the events are subordinated by familiar and clear logic laws of nature. However, as sometimes it happens, a poetic stanza, a film, or a work of art leave us with a sharp impression or even make us to change our representation of the world around. Then, the developed stereotypes disappear, and if we liberate ourselves, we could look at the world with the eyes of an innocent child. Rare artists posses a gift of such influence on the spectator; however, Rene Magritte is one of the few.  Working in a milieu of Surrealism in the second quarter of the twentieth century, he created some of the most celebrated images of the movement. Using the imagery of dreams as a source for his work, Magritte’s paintings became known as paradoxical, as oppose to the extravagant and super-pictorial paintings by Dali.
If in Romanticism, as Bishop Butler put it, “everything is what it is, and not another thing,” 1 then for Belgian Surrealist painter Rene Magritte, “everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.”2
Magritte focused in his art on the importance of what cannot be seen or easily identified. He took this to such an extreme, in fact, that what might be considered the most significant aspect of his or any work of art – its meaning – was often the best hidden, even from the artist himself.  However, nothing caused to Magritte greater displeasure then when people looked for symbolic meaning in his paintings. “To equate my painting with symbolism, conscious or unconscious, is to ignore its true nature…[people] want something to lean on, so they can be comfortable. They want something secure to hang on to, so they can save themselves from the void…by asking ‘what does this mean?’ they express a wish that everything be understandable” (Gablik 11.)   However, as I will argue below, Magritte worked in symbols, and his paintings can only be understood by decoding these images. Here, where semiotics becomes essential “meaning is not something already there in the image, but rather something produced by the decoding of signs by the viewer.” (Hatt 206)  While the use of symbolism is as old as art itself, Magritte did not use one everyday object to stand in for another, but, rather, made familiar strange, producing nonsense images as counter-rational representations of the hidden world of the subconscious. He based himself in this on the following principles: magnification of elements (an immense apple as in The Listening Room, 1952 or a red rose filling up the room space as in The Tomb of the Wrestlers, 1960.); the association of transformations (the leaf-bird as in The Companions of Fear, 1942, the mountain-eagle as in The Domain of Arnheim, 1938, or the leaf-tree as in The Quest for the Absolute, 1963); anatomical revelations such as in The Indiscreet Jewels, 1963 where the hand’s wrist reveals woman’s face.  Thus, this research paper will analyze the meaning of some of the most famous – and some of the lesser known – symbols in the art of Magritte. In searching for the meaning behind the symbols, it will trace them back to the roots of Surrealism.

La Chambre d'Écoute (The Listening Room), 1952.

The Tomb of the Wrestlers, 1960.

The Companions of Fear, 1942. 
The Domain of Arnheim. 1938.
La recherche de l'absolu (The Quest for the Absolute) 1963. 
The Indiscreet Jewels ( Les bijoux indiscrets) 1963.

Magritte’s works are among the preeminent examples of the Surrealistic theater of the absurd. They are attempts to puzzle rationality with enigma and to break down the barriers between fantasy and reality, between dreams and waking, and between the conscious and the unconscious, in order to create a sense of an absolutely unbarred universe. Surrealism is usually associated with Juan Miro and Salvador Dali. Conceivably, the two most well known surrealist works are Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, in it, Dali deals with the topic of time flies, and Miro’s Constellation: Awakening in the Early Morning.  However, Magritte’s art is much more realistic that these figurative surrealist works.  As an artist, he deliberately differs from surrealism at three principal positions:
1. The role of subconscious played an important role in the work of other surrealist artists. However, for Magritte, his involvement with the surrealist group, from 1927-1930, helped him to find his original, pictorial style, which describes his works as philosophically-poetic, or even intellectual; however, he had a low regard for the Freudian psychoanalysis of the subconscious.
2. Driven by brief flashes of enlightenment, Magritte, nonetheless, painted in the real world making the familiar strange. However, as a rule, Magritte evaded the use of the dream or fantasy world, hyperbolic characters, or unclear images.
3. The use of symbolism was typical of many surrealists. However, Magritte avoided in giving any meaning to his work. Two months before his death, Magritte wrote “I conceive of the art of painting as the science of juxtaposing colours in such a way that their actual appearance disappears and lets a poetic image emerge…There are no “subjects”, no “themes, in my painting. It is a matter of imagining images whose poetry restores to what is known that which is absolutely unknown and unknowable” (Alexandrian 7.)  
The Persistence of Memory, 1931. Salvador Dali.
Constellation: Awakening in the Early Morning, 1941. Joan Miró.

Perhaps the most fundamental matter that Magritte challenges us is by making us to ask philosophical question - what the nature of reality is. Is seeing really believing? What is the pipe, really? By asking such questions, one is attempting to think, and what Magritte does is testing us to reflect on how reliable the realism is. In the world of art, the issue of representation is to be taken at face value. Romanticism art is concerned of not the limited material world but rather the perfect world of thought. Realist art is fascinated with the representation of the made up world with the lucidity of a photograph. Impressionist art is interested in representation of the hazy, fleeting world of senses. Expressionist art is not concerned with the representation of the outer world, but in communicating the artist’s inner world of emotions. Magritte’s work is portrayed as “surrealism” or “magic realism” for the reason that he juxtaposes ordinary objects in an illogical or bizarre way that seems disturbing and confusing. Magritte gives his own definition to surrealism “Breton says that Surrealism is the point at which the mind ceases to imagine nothingness, not the contrary. That's fine, but if I repeat this definition I'm no more than a parrot. One must come up with an equivalent, such as: Surrealism is the knowledge of absolute thought.” Defining surrealism as the knowledge of absolute thought, I trust, Magritte assumed that destroying traditional ideas of painting and sculpture challenges us and pushes us out of our solace giving us the opportunity to question and to look at our every day routine under a new angle.
Magritte transformed ordinary things into mystical, shaping them into enigma. An accomplished technician, his work commonly demonstrates a combination of ordinary objects, or an unusual perspective, giving new implication to familiar things. His images are not exclusively metaphorical, and as Jacobson writes “Magritte is a surrealist in his vision, but a realist in his mimetic rendering of the ordinary objects which he transforms into the marvelous. ”  (Dubnik 408) Using only everyday objects and traditional perspective, Magritte randomly and unexpectedly juxtaposes contrasting objects to expose a hidden comparison, and humorously upsets normal contiguity.  In any case there is something a little absurd between singularity of his paintings, his artistic credo, and his traditional, simplistic way of living. However, such a paradox must have been necessary for creation philosophical, almost Kantian works of Magritte’s art.
René Magritte was born on the 21st November, 1898 in Hainaut, Belgium. His father was a tailor and a merchant. As his business experienced obstacles, the family had to move frequently. At the age of twelve, René lost his mother tragically. For unclear reasons, Régina Bertinchamp committed suicide by drawing herself in the River Samber. Louis Scutenaire, Magritte’s close friend, talked about the incident “The painter’s mother had thrown herself into the water, and when the body was recovered her face was found to be covered by her nightdress. It was never known whether she had hidden her eyes with it in order not to see the death which she had chosen, or whether the swirling currents had veiled her thus. ” (Sylvester 12.) This tragic event most certainly had a profound influence on the form and style of his paintings. His fantasy about his mother’s suicide, has many reflections in his paintings. There are several which evoke death by water; and there are numerous examples of faces which are obscured.
In 1922, Magritte, saw a reproduction of a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, the Song of Love, he felt greatly affected. This has changed his perception of what painting could be, and since that moment, he began his career as a Surrealist painter. Some biographers attribute the event: "Marcel Lecomte showed Magritte a reproduction of Giorgio de Chirico's painting The Song of Love (1914), and the image, illustrated in the Roman periodical Valori Plastici, is said to have moved him to tears. The strange juxtaposition of objects in de Chirico's work revealed to Magritte the poetic possibilities of painting, and thereafter he adopted a similar painting style." This has changed his perception of what painting could be, and since that moment, he began his career as a Surrealist painter.
"My painting is visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question 'What does that mean'? It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable." Rene Magritte. 
Giorgio de Chirico. The Song of Love, 1914.
The son of man, 1964.
La grande guerre. (The Great War.) 1964.
"The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe)," 1929.

--> Magritte’s interest in the “the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present” is the subject matter of many of his paintings.  He seems to find a very simple way of depicting an image in which the most interesting in a painting appears something that is concealed: a plant, a fruit, a bird, etc. For instance, on The Son of Man, a self-portrait by Magritte, depicted a man dressed in a suite and in a bowler hat, his face is covered by a green apple (an image frequently used by the artist.) The apple seems to hover in an open space. An image of a modern businessman remains an Adam’s son and all the temptations of the modern world are not alien to him (an apple as a symbol of temptation.)  Similar in theme to the Son of Man, is depicted in The Great War, 1964 where Magritte portrays a woman dressed in an early twentieth century style with her face covered by a bouquet of the hydrangea. Magritte’s art is the theater of absurd. His art pushes us our of our comfort zone making us to rethink our routine existence.   For example, the use of paradox is obvious in painting titled Golconda, which portrays a foggy city over which pocket-sized men in dark overcoats are raining, like numerous drops of water. Another one is a very simple painting of a tobacco pipe, under which there is an inscription similar to those found in children’s books which says: This Is Not a Pipe. This picture clearly depicts a pipe, or it confronts the viewer with an illusion of a pipe, while at the same time the picture’s caption denies that it is a pipe.  This is obvious contradiction. However, after a brief examination, it becomes clear that it is not a pipe, but rather its representation. Thus, Magritte’s neither image nor inscription is false. The image is illusionistic that becomes indeed treacherous, making us see something real (a pipe) that is not really present. With this painting, Magritte makes us doubt that we can rely on our perception of things (Bradley 41.) “Our vision is limited, we are prisoners of reality,” wrote Magritte, and in his painting we discover evidently illustrated his intention of pointing directly to that mysterious structure hidden beneath the world of sense perception. Michel Foucault, a French historian and philosopher, associated with the structuralist and post-structuralist movements, and a frequent correspondent with Magritte, wrote a fifty-four pages of “archeological analysis” about Magritte’s pipe. According to Foucault, Magritte’s painting cautious us against from making overly facile if any connections between objects and the language that refers to them.If as in the case with this painting, every verbal affirmation has its contradiction, including this one, then Picasso has not been far from the truth one stated “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.”
Thus, Magritte uses paradox as the principal method which allows him to communicate his perception to us. This irony, with its combination of ambiguous terms, serves as the perfect way to create the troubling result and to propose mystery. Its purpose is to amaze, and at the same time to upset and displace the mind from the routine ideas of reality and open the mind to the other possibilities. Thus, the artist attempts to depict hidden in what we see in the essence of things.
The film director, Jon McTiernan, used Magritte’s symbolism of images in his film An Affair of Thomas Crown, 1999. The essence of the plot is in antagonism between Thomas Crown, a wealthy businessman and an adventurous playboy, steals a painting San Giorgio Maggiore at dusk by Monet from the art gallery and an ace insurance investigator Catherine Banning who has to return the stolen item to the gallery. And as it often happens in Hollywood films, the rivalry between two intelligent young people transforms into attraction, where attraction leads to love. Crown’s duality of nature is greatly juxtaposition against Magritte’s painting Son of Man which appears in the film several times. Not knowing at all, Magritte’s creative method, the sensation of the visible which is hidden, arises absolutely precisely. Available visible to us is that Thomas Crown is the successful, smart businessman, a connoisseur and an art lover.  The hidden visible is the true Crown is an intrepid adventurer for whom social norms and stereotypes of no value. He steals the painting not for its pecuniary benefits but rather amusement. The film director accentuate attention on the painting Son of Man several times because it is the painting that gives the sensation of duality and temptation (an apple.)
It is interesting to note that despite polysemanticism and symbolical characteristics of images of Magritte paintings, the artist objected when his works were identified with symbolism. Indeed,  Magritte not only rejected the use of symbolism that was typical of many surrealists, but he persistently refused to apply any meaning to his works.
However, during his late period of creative process, Magritte was rejecting his accessory to surrealism. Instead, he preferred, that his style of painting was related to magic realism. Though, in the beginning of his career, surrealism had much impact on Magritte’s creative path and world outlook.
A number of steady images-symbols pass through all Magritte’s works.  While the artist gives his own view on the meaning to these images, the foundation of the majority of them position in the collective unconsciousness of European culture. In other words, the meaning of the images is more or less familiar to the viewer: from myths, legends, or fairy tales. Thus, an apple means temptation or youth; a mirror symbolizes duality or a way to another world.  There are often depicted objects that continually recur in Magritte’s visuals such as the pipe, apple, clouds, the trademark bowler hat. Among others, Magritte's favored themes were the "window painting" and the "painting within a painting." For example, the painting titled The Human Condition, 1933 Magritte himself describes it as follows:
In front of a window, as seen from the interior of a room, I placed a picture that represented precisely the portion of landscape blotted out by the picture. For instance, the tree represented in the picture displaced the tree situated behind it, outside the room. For the spectator, it was simultaneously inside the room, in the picture; and outside, in the real landscape, in thought. Which is how we see the world, namely, outside of us though having only one representation of it within us. (Disquieting Art: The Essays of Borges and the Paintings of Magritte p. 15)
La condition humaine (The Human Condition), 1933.
The Human Condition displays an easel placed inside a room and in front of a window. The viewer at first might not even notice that in front of a window there is molbert which holds an unframed painting of landscape that seems in every detail contiguous with the landscape seen outside the window. Upon peering at the context of the painting it becomes clear what and how things are represented there. It even brings a sensation of revelation. This revelation is not only an understanding of the theme of the work of the artist but also or more importantly it is an understanding of nuances of how we perceive the world which we have not noticed before. To me, the painting reminds of Zen Koan1. In it, sleeping wise man dreams of a beautiful butterfly, and suddenly he understands that perhaps it is the butterfly that is a wise old man. Where is the dream, and where is the reality? Magritte constantly asks these questions and dislocates our perceptions of the developed stereotypes leaving it to us to answer.
The main feature of Magritte works is to evoke world’s mystery. The sensation of a secret, as known, is inherent to the real art. Some art critics such as Herbert Read considered Magritte as an artist of imagined, a master on the same level as Giorgione. This comparison, I link to the poetics of Magritte’s images. For instance, the painting The False Mirror, 1928 that expressed the philosophy of the artist, is an image of an enormous eye. However, instead of an iris of the eye, the spectator sees the summer blue sky with transparent clouds floating on them. The title of the painting explains its idea: the sense organs only reflect the external shape of things, not revealing the latent depth of the world, its mystery. Only the opposite, by Magritte, helps to grasp the sense of life. The image can be born only from approaching of two or more distant realities, like Lautreamont’s “fortuitous meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table” (Breton 275.) These bizarre arrangements, according to Breton, produce a shock  “It is…from the fortuitous juxtaposition of the two terms that a particular light has sprung, the light of the image…The value of the image depends depends upon a beauty of the spark obtained; it is, consequently, a function of the difference of potential between the two conductors”  (Breton 37.)  A spark is created as the connection becomes noticeable. Surrealists practiced infinite and illogical use of the symbols and of controlled similarities. Wallace Fowlie writes in Age of Surrealism “everything is comparable to everything else…In the image everything finds an echo and a resemblance…It contains both resemblances and oppositions, and illustrates what Baudelaire called…the logic of the absurd (la logique de l’Absurde).” (Fowlie 141-142) Despite Magritte’s use of the symbolism, his symbols are more logical then absurd, especially if compared to other surrealist images those of Miro or Dali, as an example. Suzi Gablik, an artist and critic who spent eight months living in the artist’s house in Brussels, wrote that one of Magritte’s involvements to surrealist thoughts is that he not only “juxtaposed dissimilar objects in what had become the classic surrealist manner; he now explored the hidden affinities between objects – the relation of shoes to feet, or of the landscape to the picture, or of the female face to the female body.” (Gablik 100)  Thus, Magritte developed a style of his own. The aspect of distress and a spark became more accurate, more intentional, and manipulated than it had ever been in works of De Chirico, the surrealist whom Magritte was so much influenced at first.
The False Mirror, 1928.
Hegel's Holiday
, 1958. 
Another Magritte’s philosophical painting is the Hegel’s Holiday, 1958. What is the connection here between seemingly unrelated objects such as an umbrella and a glass of water and Hegel? The answer lies in the title of the painting. Hegel is dialectic, a master of wit and logic, on vacation. This means that Hegel is simply absent.  The presence of Hegel in the painting would have been inappropriate in an atmosphere of illogical scale in which the image was created by the artist. Thus any associations are possible but none of them will be related to the general sense of the image. The meaning is so deeply hidden that it appears there is no meaning at all. In his letter to Suzi Gablik, Magritte wrote:

“My latest painting began with the question: how to show a glass of water in a painting in such a way that it would not be indifferent? Or whimsical, or arbitrary, or weak – but, allow us to use the word, with genius? (Without false modesty.) I began by drawing many glasses of water, always with a linear mark on the glass. This line, after the 100th or 150th drawing, widened out and finally took the form of an umbrella. The umbrella was then put into the glass, and to conclude, underneath the glass. Which is the exact solution to the initial question: how to paint a glass of water with genius. I then thought that Hegel (another genius) would have been very sensitive to this object which has two opposing functions: at the same time not to admit any water (repelling it) and to admit it (containing it). He would have been delighted, I think, or amused (as on vacation), and I call the painting Hegel's Holiday.” (Gablik 111)

In Magritte’s In Praise of Dialectics, we cannot determine if we are outside looking in or inside looking out. Analogous confusion noted in Reproduction Prohibited, in which we do not see the image that we expect to be reflected in the mirror, and in Clairvoyance, where Magritte is looking at an egg while drawing a bird. 
Magritte sharply differs from other surrealists. Unlike Miro or Dali, he uses ordinary elements in bizarre relationship to each other. For instance, Magritte’s painting Personal Values, 1952, in which a magnified comb, matchstick, a wine glass, bar of soap, and shaving brush share the room space with a bed, a chiffonier, and rugs of normal size. The composition and precise realism of the painting is suggestive of a naturmort, a simple genre of artists. However, in Personal Values, ordinary things, such as a comb and a glass were magnified to grotesque sizes, becoming confusing objects rather familiar. The key to its interpretation lies also in the painting’s title. “Personal”, here, hypertrophies to grotesque sizes. Despite the sky with floating clouds instead of walls, the room transforms into micro-space: closed and squeezed. All objects have strangely changed, as almost they were brought to life. However, as always in Magritte’s paintings, the objects did not change its appearances, colours, and texture. They are still perfectly recognizable. The spectator admires the blue color of a wine glass, the wooden texture of the furniture, and the skill of transferring of mirror reflection. Magritte’s objects somewhat received an independent lives and became “persons” leading a conversation between themselves.
Personal Values, 1952.
One of the early features of Magritte paintings is its dependence on philosophy and literature. Magritte’s circle included poets, philosophers, and writers, while studying theoretical works of well-known 19th century romantics. He was greatly influenced by the works of the English poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge who first of all appreciated symbolical character in art.   As an example, Magritte’s painting The Key to the Fields, 1936. Here the landscape outside is painted on the inner side of the window, and the window is shattered, so that bits of the landscape are littering on the floor indoors. The landscape features green evening hills, spherical shaped blue trees, the transparent nacreous clouds. Brilliantly using tonal oil technique, Magritte creates joyful mood, expectation of something unusual and wonderful. A warm shades of curtains in the foreground strengthens the impression of lightness of this captivating landscape. Magritte’s paintings seem to be finished in a calm, dauntless manner. His use of colours is avaricious, but he uses its symbolism to express complex associations. The tinctures of blue, pink, yellow, and black give to an image coloured fullness and vivacity.

The Key to the Fields, 1936.
Magritte’s originality reveals more fully if to address his works to a theme of Surrealism and Freudianism. Andre Breton, who studied medicine and psychiatry, analyzing Magritte’s works gave to Freud’s psychoanalysis crucial importance. Freudian ideas were not simply acquired by surrealists but became their way of thinking. For instance, for Dali, by his own recognition, the world of Freudian ideas meant as much, as the Bible to medieval artists or the world of antique mythology to the masters of Renaissance.
The method of free associations offered by Freud, along with his theory of mistakes and interpretation of dreams were first of all focused on revealing painful frustration of mentality and its cure. At the same time, the method was focused on interpretation of works of art. However, with such understanding, art is reduced to limited, so to say, “medical” aspect. In this inaccuracy of the approach, the theorists of surrealism were mistaken. Magritte understood it well, and in one of his letters he wrote “Art as I conceive it is resistant to psychoanalysis: it evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist, namely, the mystery that must not be mistaken for some kind of problem, difficult as that problem may be. ” (Torczyner 15)
Any attempts to interpret his art using psychoanalysis, the artist took ironically “they think my picture, The Red Model is a case of castration…No sensible person believes that psychoanalysis can elucidate the mystery of the world. The very nature of mystery obviates curiosity. Nor does psychoanalysis have anything to say about works of art that evoke the mystery of the world. Perhaps psychoanalysis is the best subject for psychoanalytical treatment” (Torczyner 15.) Magritte persistently refused to call himself as a surrealist. He willingly accepted the characteristic of magic realism. Magic realism was typical to the Belgian period of his art – starting since 1930, when the artists left Paris for Brussels.
Magic realism as a version of European Romanticism has national features. Mythos-poetical characteristics which are rooted in the art of Bosch, are typical for Belgian Romanticism, and we can relate Magritte’s art to it. Old Traditions of Dutch art have also influenced his works. For instance, there are some details-symbols that attract our attention in the painting Plagiarism, 1960. Here, to the left, on the table we see the depiction of the nest and three eggs – symbol of Trinity. Like a wizard, the artist materializes the images of his imagination before our eyes. And the images transform into a fine fertile garden – a symbol of a live creative nature. Magritte creates a very fine, spiritual poetic image. Contemplating the image, the only possible thing is to admire its gentle pink, azure, and cream tones – a really fantastic show.
The Battle of the ArgonneLa bataille de l’Argonne, 1959.

The Natural Graces, 1967.
Les Fleurs de l’abime (Flowers of the Abyss), 1928.

The Song of the Violet, 1951.
Magritte was the most paradoxical among the Surrealists. If the others members of the group tried to create somewhat of a scandal in life, Magritte tried to remain externally ordinary. His life had been an effort to “overthrow our sense of the familiar, to sabotage our habits, to put the real world on trial.” (Gablik 9) Among the illusionistic surrealists, Magritte perhaps bears the most significance to contemporary art. His dissociated images, contrasts of elements and unrelated verbal inscriptions create tricky philosophical questions of meaning and connection between painting and real objects. He chose to paint objects as ordinary as birds in flight, loaves of French bread. In his paintings, “the veil has been lifted and a picture speaks…we see what has been hidden or obscured” (La belle captive. 195) The artist repeatedly uses motives of a broken window, and such images-symbols as an apple-face, a bouquet-face, a stone parapet before infinite water space, a stone-eagle, a hollow of an enormous oak, a female antique head on a sea background and an infinite fence. The transformation of people, elements, and titles within Magritte’s works transgress the ordinary margins between the flora, fauna, and mineral world in order to create new “natural” laws: stones that float like clouds as in The Battle of Argonne, 1959, birds that grow like leaves as in The Natural Graces 1967, bells that turns into flowers as in The Flowers of the Abyss (1928), men that becomes stones as in The Song of the Violet (1951), and stone birds that fly as in the Idol.  Besides, he juxtaposes words and images, as in The Interpretation of Dreams, the words “birds” is being substitute with the word “knife.” Magritte discussed the relationship between words and images as “an object is not so attached to its names that one cannot find another which suits it better” (Delaney 138.) Michel Foucault developed a further theme in a book This is Not a Pipe (1982), titled after Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, (1929).
Thus, I have covered just a little over thirty works of art by Magritte; however, the question “what does his art mean” remains unanswered. Magritte is an example of association automatism, a painter focusing on opposing realities. He is an artist of distinct sharp forms and clear vision. His symbolism is pure and transparent, as window glasses that he so much liked to depict. He seems as he warns us about the fragility of the world. The motive of a glass window can be considered as a boarder between other worlds – real and surreal, poetic and ordinary, between conscious and unconscious.
In a picture The Son of Man (1964), a modern person is represented against a wall that separates him from an infinite open spaces of ocean and the sky symbolizing infinity. An image of an apple hanging in the face of the person gives mysteriousness to the painting. This apple can be perceived as a fruit of a tree of knowledge, and as a symbol of the mother nature which the person tries to understand. At the same time, this small detail offers harmony to the prosaic image of the bourgeois.
Next, the picture Golconda (1953) can be considered as a metaphor: people "with weight" became weightless. There is hidden irony in the title of the painting: after all, Golconda is know as a semi legendary city in India famous for its gold  and diamonds, and these people on the painting are as though as being drawn by gold. The artist hangs up in endless space tens of accurately dressed men with bowler-hats, ties and fashionable coats keeping an absolute coolness.

Magritte's "La Trahison des Images" ("The Treachery of Images") (1928-9) or "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" ("This is not a pipe").

The Son of Man (1964) by René Magritte (1898-1967).

The Ready Made Bouquet, 1957.
Primavera, also known as Allegory of Spring by Sandro Botticelli, 1482. 

In one of Magritte’s late paintings, The Ready Made Bouquet (1957), another depiction of  a man in a bowler-hat and a dress coat, the spark is in the representation of the Botticelli’s famous painting Spring.  How do we suppose to read the image? Does it mean that the art is timeless? Or the person passes, but art remains? Perhaps, the person strolling through the park has a reminiscent of Botticelli’s Spring? The answer is not clear.
Aspiring to comprehend escaping sense of Magritte’s pictures, any attempts to explain them, tmy mind convulsively trying to catch unknown. The artist throws his painting title (as I learnt his titles usually would come to him upon completion of the work), thus making the title of the most importance for perception of the painting.  His relatives and friends remember that he would create the titles after having discussed them with his friends-writers. In his own words “
I think that the best title for a picture is a poetic title…The titles of [my] paintings were chosen so that they would provoke in the observer an appropriate mistrust toward that unthinking tendency to indulge in easily attained self-satisfaction.” Indeed, his painting titles are emotional and bewitching.
Magritte’s connection between art and poetry has been briefly mentioned. I will add, that thanks to his art, a special direction in the Belgian literature of "magic realism" with its predilection for  a fantastic plot and to any magic transformations was brought to life. It will be appropriate to recall Hubert Lampo (1920-2006), a Flemish writer, one of the founders of magic realism whose story Regen en Gaslicht  with its atmosphere and artistic mood is very close to Magritte’s art.
The main character of the story, experiencing some heavy soul anxiety, phone to his old acquaintance on a rainy autumn day, but makes a mistake by one number while dialing the number. To his surprise, on the other end, the female voice greets him as an old friend and invites him to herself. Having found the address from a telephone directory, the character goes and arrives to a strange country house where he meets the woman in the magnificent living room decorated in empire style.  To his greatest amazement, in the woman he recognizes his wife. However, at the same time he understands that it is impossiblet: after all they live in a poor flat in other place. The character feels that he has appeared in a new, other, dimension. Next morning, upon his return back home, he finds his wife Louise (same name as the stranger the other night) lying on the kitchen floor — she has died of a heart attack. After a few days, the character returned to the private residence where he met with the mysterious woman. He learns from the owner of the near by restaurant that the private residence has been uninhabited for thirty eight years — since last inhabitant of this house, the lonely young woman died. She has died of a heart attack in a rainy autumn night.
“Having warmed up at a fireplace, — the hero of the story has told further, — I have gone to trellised collars. The path strewed by a red beaten brick, conducted to a porch, has densely grassed. The house was in a condition of the uttermost desolation, almost all windows have been broken up. I, certainly, it did not see it as such. Then I was stroked by the fact that it was Louise’s thirty-eighths birthday, and this fact coincides with the day of death of the last inhabitant of the house. I have returned to a near by restaurant and have gotten drunk ".
That was reaction of an ordinary consciousness. The clear logic continues to ask questions. Will it receive answers or not, is not so important. The most important thing that Magritte's pictures give something exciting to realities, they enhance our imagination, they induce to co-authorship, they make us constantly want to ask questions. Isn’t it the main intention of art?

Rene Magritte at MOMA, 1965. Photograph: Steve Schapiro.
1: Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), ix.
2: Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977), 172.
3: Suzi Gablik, Magritte (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1970), 11.
4: Michael Hatt, Art History: A Critical Introduction to its Methods (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 206.
5: Sarane
Alexandrian, Surrealist Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985), 7.
6: Paul Crowther, The Language of Twenties-Century Art: A Conceptual History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 113.
7: Randa Dubnick ,“Visible Poetry: Metaphor and Metonymy in the Paintings of Rene Magritte,” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 21, No. 3, Art and Literature (1980): 408.
8: David Sylvester, Magritte: The Silence of the World (New York: The Menil Foundation, 1992), 12.
9: James Thrall Soby, Rene Magritte, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, Doubleday, 1965), 37.
Abraham Marie Hammacher, René Magritte (New York: Abrams, 1995), 1.
11: Fiona Bradley, Surrealism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 41.
12: Pablo Picasso, Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views, ed. Dore Ashton (Cambridge, Mass., Da Capo Press, 1988), 21.
13: Didier T. Jaen, “
The Disquieting Art: The Essays of Borges and the Paintings of Magritte,Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana, vol.2, no. 2 (1973): 15.
14: Andre Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972), 275.
15: Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, 37.
16: Wallace Fowlie, Age of Surrealism (New York: Swallow Press, 1950), 141-142.
17: Gablik, Magritte, 100.
18: Gablik, Magritte, 111.
19: Eric Wargo, “Infinite Recess: perspective and play in Magritte's La Condition Humaine,” Art History, vol. 25 no. 1 (2002): 57
20: Magritte, Rene and Harry Torczyner, Letters Between Friends (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1994), 15.
21: Gablik, Magritte, 9.
22: Alain Robbe-Grillet, René Magritte, Ben Stoltzfus, La Belle Captive: a novel (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995), 195.
Carol Lowery Delaney, Investigating Culture: an Experiential Introduction to Anthropology (Boston: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 138.
Uwe M. Schneede, Rene Magritte: Life and Work (Barron’s Educational Series, 1982), 13.
1.     Alexandrian, Sarane. Surrealist Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985

2.     Berlin, Isaiah. The Roots of Romanticism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

3.     Bradley, Fiona. Surrealism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

4.     Breton, André. Manifestoes of Surrealism. Trans. by Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane. University of Michigan Press, 1969.

5.     Crowther, Paul. The Language of Twenties-Century Art: A Conceptual History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

6.     Delaney, Carol Lowery. Investigating Culture: an Experiential Introduction to Anthropology. Boston: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

7.     Dubnick, Randa. “Visible Poetry: Metaphor and Metonymy in the Paintings of Rene Magritte.” Contemporary Literature, Vol. 21, No. 3, Art and Literature (1980): 407- 41

8.     Fowlie, Wallace. Age of Surrealism. New York: Swallow Press, 1950.

9.     Gablik, Suzi. Magritte. Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1970.

10.  Hammacher, Abraham M. Rene Magritte. Trans. by James Brockway. New York: Abrams, 1995.

11.  Hatt, Michael. Art History: A Critical Introduction to its Methods (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006),

12.  Jaen, Didier T. “The Disquieting Art: The Essays of Borges and the Paintings of Magritte,Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana, vol.2, no. 2 (1973): 10-21.

13.  Magritte, Rene. Collected Writings. London, 1987.

14.    Magritte, Rene and Harry Torczyner. Letters Between Friends. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1994.

15.  Picasso, Pablo.  Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views. ed. Dore Ashton Cambridge, Mass., Da Capo Press, 1988.

16.     Robbe-Grillet, Alain and René Magritte. La Belle Captive: a novel. Berkeley and Los   Angeles: University of California Press, 1995.

17.  Schneede, Uwe.  Rene Magritte: Life and Work. Barron’s Educational Series, 1982.

18.  Soby, James Thrall. René Magritte. New York: The Museum of Modern Art. Doubleday, 1965.

19.  Sylvester, D. Magritte: Silence of the World. London: Thames & Hudson, 1992

20.   Torczyner, Harry. Magritte: Ideas and Images. New York: Abrams, 1977.

21.   Wargo, Eric. “Infinite Recess: perspective and play in Magritte's La Condition Humaine,” Art History, vol. 25 no. 1 (2002): 47-67.

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