The 10 Most Famous Artworks of René Magritte
This includes The Treachery of Images, The Son of Man, Golconda, and The Lovers...
René François Ghislain Magritte (21 November 1898 – 15 August 1967) was a Belgian surrealist artist, who became well known for creating a number of witty and thought-provoking images. Often depicting ordinary objects in an unusual context, his work is known for challenging observers’ preconditioned perceptions of reality. His imagery has influenced pop art, minimalist art, and conceptual art.
Like the other artists and poets associated with the Surrealist movement, Magritte sought to overthrow what he saw as the oppressive rationalism of bourgeois society. His art during these essential years is at times violent, frequently disturbing, and filled with discontinuities.
niood lists the most famous artworks of René Magritte:
French Title: La trahison des images
Year: 1928 – 1929
The painting shows an image of a pipe. Below it, Magritte painted, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe“, French for “This is not a pipe”.
The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe”, I’d have been lying!— René Magritte
French Title: Le fils de l’homme
Magritte painted it as a self-portrait. The painting consists of a man in an overcoat and a bowler hat standing in front of a low wall, beyond which are the sea and a cloudy sky. The man’s face is largely obscured by a hovering green apple. However, the man’s eyes can be seen peeking over the edge of the apple. Another subtle feature is that the man’s left arm appears to bend backwards at the elbow.
About the painting, Magritte said:
At least it hides the face partly well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.
French Title: Golconde
The piece depicts a scene of “raining men”, nearly identical to each other dressed in dark overcoats and bowler hats, who seem to be either falling down like rain drops, floating up like helium balloons, or just stationed in mid-air as no movement or motion is implied. The backdrop features red-roofed buildings and a mostly blue partly cloudy sky, lending credence to the theory that the men are not raining. The men are equally spaced in a lattice, facing the viewpoint and receding back in rhombic grid layers.
Magritte lived in a similar suburban environment, and dressed in a similar fashion. The bowler hat was a common feature of much of his work, and appears in paintings such as The Son of Man.
One interpretation is that Magritte is demonstrating the line between individuality and group association, and how it is blurred. All of these men are dressed the same, have the same bodily features and are all floating/falling. This leaves one to look at the men as a group. Whereas if one looks at each person, one can predict that they may be completely different from another figure.
French Title: Les Amants
Frustrated desires are a common theme in René Magritte’s work. Here, a barrier of fabric prevents the intimate embrace between two lovers, transforming an act of passion into one of isolation and frustration. Some have interpreted this work as a depiction of the inability to fully unveil the true nature of even our most intimate companions.
Enshrouded faces were a common motif in Magritte’s art. The artist was 14 when his mother committed suicide by drowning. He witnessed her body being fished from the water, her wet nightgown wrapped around her face. Some have speculated that this trauma inspired a series of works in which Magritte obscured his subjects’ faces. Magritte disagreed with such interpretations, denying any relation between his paintings and his mother’s death. “My painting is visible images which conceal nothing,” he wrote, “they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, ‘What does it mean?’ It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.”
French Title: L’Empire des lumières
Year: 1953 – 1954
In Empire of Light, numerous versions of which exist (see, for example, those at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels), a dark, nocturnal street scene is set against a pastel-blue, light-drenched sky spotted with fluffy cumulus clouds. With no fantastic element other than the single paradoxical combination of day and night, René Magritte upsets a fundamental organizing premise of life. Sunlight, ordinarily the source of clarity, here causes the confusion and unease traditionally associated with darkness. The luminosity of the sky becomes unsettling, making the empty darkness below even more impenetrable than it would seem in a normal context. The bizarre subject is treated in an impersonal, precise style, typical of veristic Surrealist painting and preferred by Magritte since the mid-1920s.
French Title: La condition humaine
The Human Condition displays an easel placed inside a room and in front of a window. The easel holds an unframed painting of a landscape that seems in every detail contiguous with the landscape seen outside the window. At first, one automatically assumes that the painting on the easel depicts the portion of the landscape outside the window that it hides from view. After a moment’s consideration, however, one realizes that this assumption is based upon a false premise: that is, that the imagery of Magritte’s painting is real, while the painting on the easel is a representation of that reality. In fact, there is no difference between them. Both are part of the same painting, the same artistic fabrication. It is perhaps to this repeating cycle, in which the viewer, even against his will, sees the one as real and the other as representation, that Magritte’s title makes reference.
French Title: La reproduction interdite
The work depicts a man standing in front of a mirror, but whereas the book on the mantelpiece is reflected correctly, the man’s reflection also shows him from behind.
The book on the mantel is a well-worn copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (written here in French as Les aventures d’Arthur Gordon Pym). Poe was one of Magritte’s favorite authors and he made other references to the author and his work.
French Title: Le Faux Miroir
The eye was a subject that fascinated many Surrealist poets and visual artists, given its threshold position between inner, subjective self and the external world. The Surrealist photographer Man Ray once owned The False Mirror, which he memorably described as a painting that “sees as much as it itself is seen.” His words capture the work’s unsettling character: it places the viewer on the spot, caught between looking through and being watched by an eye that proves to be empty. It opens onto a void that, for all its radiant, cumulus-cloud-filled beauty, seems to deny the possibility of human existence.
French Title: Le Portrait
A simply laid-out meal is not as simple as it seems. Each object is rendered with equally sharp focus and pictorial realism, yet any expectation of everyday reality is overturned, above all by the unblinking eye that stares inexplicably from a slice of ham on a plate. The perspective of this still life tilts dramatically toward the surface of the picture plane, as if to confront or perhaps invite the viewer to join the table.
French Title: Le jockey perdu
Le jockey perdu is among Magritte’s first Surrealist works.
The present gouache, like other of Magritte’s earliest Surrealist works, reveals an interest in theatrical elements. Curtains frame a stage-like setting that emphasizes the linear movement of the jockey across the picture. However, the undulating, shifting geometry of the ground plane, with the color of the lines changing from black to blue as they move upwards, gives the impression of both instability and fragmentation. Already Magritte was removing common objects from their usual contexts: “Turned wood table-legs lost the innocent existence usually ascribed to them as soon as they appeared dominating a forest” (La ligne de la vie; quoted in S. Gablik, op. cit., p. 184).