Art of the 20th Century


Art Styles in 20th century Art Map


Rene Magritte





Thought Rendered Visible



Space thus emerged between the visible and its manifestations, on the one hand, and the invisible and thought, on the other - space for a reflective alliance between the images and their meaning. Magritte included this pact of uncertainties and wonders in his pictures. It is a pact with the devil, however, since the signatories are so incompatible and so heterogeneous in nature that a merging of or clash between the two does not even give rise to contradiction. The squaring of a circle at least requires the presence of two geometrical figures, yet there exist no points of reference or links whatever between what one says and what one sees, between the logic of discourse and the figuration of what is visible. One is quite aware that the sun is no big red disc some two hundred metres away; nevertheless, there are some summer evenings when it at least seems to be such.

A mysterious element is present in the most natural manifestation of objects, invincible and totally resistant to established concepts. It radiates the impossibility of reducing the visible to the logos, possessing precisely that all-encompassing dimension that distinguishes the world of Magritte's pictures, the anchorage which he never relinquished. One could even say that he settled upon this very heterogeneity of reflection and reflex, of speculation and mirror-image, in order to resolve the mutual exclusion of seeing and thinking on the metaphysical surface of the canvas. His works display the unconsidered within the visual.

The bells worn by the horses in Charleroi in the first half of the century, when portrayed floating in mid-air and greatly enlarged, reveal an exciting magic and poetry (The Voice of the Winds).


 The objects of painting are free of the ties which exist between things in the everyday world. On the contrary, they possess an artificial power and a more than physical potential, demonstrating an urge to drift away such as is characteristic of thought itself- with the proviso that thought is nothing other than an active and intensive confrontation with the unthinkable. The word "magic" comes from the Persian, and has the same root as the German word mogen (in turn related to the English verb form "may" as in "maybe", in the sense of "possibly be able to"). It characterizes the possibility of penetrating every form, every identity, without submitting to a binding association with any of them. Is the body of the dove turning into clouds? Or are the fantastic clouds becoming a bird? The Large Family) of poetic forces refers to the fusion of heavenly powers, the fusion of clouds and birds, while The Discovery of Fire is surely captivated by the birth of its own mystery, since the flames which we see painted here are feeding upon something quite impossible. In Magritte's picture Manet's Balcony, the place of the gentleman in black and the young ladies dressed in white has been taken by the symbols of their death. Coffins have adopted the sitting or standing poses assigned the figures by Manet.

The Voice of the Winds

The horses in both Charleroi and Brussels onece wore bells around their necks,
the sound of which left a lasting impression upon the painter.
In allowing these bells to float freely in mid-air, exposed to the winds,
he is imparting pictorial embodiment to audible perception.


The Voice of Space


The Large Family

Is the body of the dove turning into clouds?
Or are the fantastic clouds becoming a bird?

The Discovery of Fire

Fire as mystery, as a force devouring everything before it without exception.
Fire has always had a central significance and fascination, in every culture and every age.
The flames appear to be taking their course quite unhindered, as if the tuba were made of wood.

Perspective II: Manet's Balcony

The figures in Manet's picture have been replaced in that of Magritte by coffins;
otherwise, the scene remains unchanged.
The place of the living is taken by dead objects,
which -shockingly - would seem to represent the humans equally well.

Perspectiva I: Madame Recamier de David


Time Transfixed


 Does the picture not refer to the inorganic, death-bringing character of painting? Is Magritte not practically insisting upon this - and therefore simultaneously upon the freedom and the very special nature of life that is inherent in art? There is no flesh, no sex, in painting, yet this de-sexualized world is imbued with a quite different kind of sensuality and energy. Leaving the realm of sorrow and joy, we enter the world of creative works and aesthetic inventions. Accordingly, The Seducer is no ship; rather, the sea looks like a ship. The same is true of the pictures Golconda and The Month of the Grape Harvest, where Magritte is playing with the concept of multiplying identical figures, in order to demonstrate that the social identity of people cannot appeal to a solid foundation. Fantomas could be hiding in each of them, in some, in only one, or in none. Poetry can be everywhere and nowhere, but one must first be placed in the position and discover the prerequisites necessary for being disturbed and confused - by a visual experience, for example - before one can then sense the depths, the bottomless nature, lurking in the deepest core of things, in those principles that seem most sound. Magritte's art is the revenge of poetry upon the power of blind technology, the revenge of philosophical thought, of questioning, open thought, in contrast to firmly established certainties and dogmas of whatever inclination. The "leaders", the demagogues, the prophets of a radiant future, are nothing else than dangerous Cicerones, their mouths spewing forth not thoughts or words but fire and lead. Magritte's picture The Cicerone lends a subversive political aspect to the famous jointed dolls of de Chirico's metaphysical painting. While the mystery of the world is ultimately invincible, it is nonetheless only too vulnerable to greed and the lust for power.

The Seducer

The observer is seduced by an idea which is poetic and plausible at the same time,
that of an object taking on the substance of the material in which it feels itself at home.
Here, accordingly, the ship is constructed of water, thereby becoming a
kind of "castle in the air" of Magritte's painting and world of ideas.

Les merveilles de la Nature



"There is a crowd of men here, different men. When you think of a crowd, however, you don't think of an individual;
accordingly, these men arc all dressed alike, as simply as possible, so as to suggest a crowd ...
Golconda was a wealthy Indian city, something like a wonder.
I consider it a wonder that I can walk through the sky on the earth.
On the other hand, the bowler hat constitutes no surprise - it is a quite unoriginal article of headgear.
The man in the bowler hat is Mr. Average in his anonymity.
I, too, wear one; I have no great desire to stand out from the masses." 
Rene Magritte

The Month of the Grape Harvest

Here too, as in Golconda, appear the anonymous, interchangeable, bowler-hatted men.
They are hermetically obstructing the view out of the window;
thereby acquiring an almost threatening expression despite their passivity.


The Cicerone

The verbose and imperious guide sets both direction and path.
A reflective pause would not correspond to its structure.
Under its domination, technology and politics are accordingly characterized by the same absurd barbarism.

Los encuentros naturales


Elementary Cosmogony



Life, the greatest mystery of them all, is threatened and damaged by forces from science and politics, forces regarding themselves as chosen and empowered to supervise and run this life - that is, to dominate and manipulate it. The picture The Pleasure Principle is a portrait of Edward James, the English collector, after a very fine photograph by Man Ray. A simple explosion of light, a violent electric flash, has taken the place of the face, of the revealed soul. Magritte has substituted the simple truth of his art for the effects of representation, reproduction, and repetition typical of this technique. He is demonstrating that the photographic snapshot, rather than recognizing reality, in fact represents a mechanical operation and manipulation such as transforms light and shadow into a deceptive illusion. He is conducting a dialogue, not with the head of Edward James (who, incidentally, was the model for Not To Be Reproduced, too) but rather with the art of photography. Magritte himself was a first-rate photographer. He is uncovering the mystery of photographic reproduction, giving it an ironic interpretation by placing the stone on the other side and exchanging the position of the right and the left hands, at the same time shifting them very slightly.

The Pleasure Principle (Portrait of Edward James)

While working on the portrait of Edward James after a photograph by Man Ray.
Magritte substituted the explosion of light produced by a camera flash device for the face of his model,
thereby - as so often - mocking and demonstrating the principle of unreality lying behind a picture.



The Liberator

The pictures of a key, a bird, a pipe and a glass, portrayed in isolation on a board,
have the effect of mysterious, enigmatic signs. We can name them individually;
however, their deeper significance is hidden on the other side of the depiction,
within the imagination of the respective observer.

Le therapeute


Headlessness has been inflicted upon the model in a portrait that is not "drawn forward", as the Latin root -protrahere - says, but seems rather to have been pushed back, driven by the canvas through the canvas itself, through the light of what is visible, which always has the tendency more to hide than to uncover and reveal. Magritte never ceased in his concern to demonstrate that what we see is in fact concealing something from us, while what is invisible is for its part incapable of remaining hidden, its nature being such that it perforce cannot be shown. It is even possible to show that it cannot be shown, by ordering the visible figures in such a way that the limits of what is visible can be appreciated. Painting alone cannot cross these limits, however. The Pleasure Principle  portrays the principle of painting as a sensory statement full of abstract realities, the inverting and perverting of the customary world in favour of the more real world - not that world inhabited by those who lay down commandments and prohibitions, but rather a mysterious and unimaginable world, an appeal, a promise, which art and thought seek to answer and fulfil. Asked by Charles Flamand, the journalist, if he often thought of death, Magritte replied: "No, not more often than of life."

El castillo en los pirineos


La flecha de Zenon

La gran mesa


Recuerdo de viaje


Souvenir of a Journey III


Recuerdo de viaje


The Song of the Violet


The Endearing truth


The Idol


In his own words, Magritte lived "like everything else" in the mystery of the world. Instead of seeking a more or less new and original manner of painting, or inventing new techniques, he preferred to get to the bottom of things, to use painting as the instrument of thinking and philosophical wisdom, as a means of recognition inseparably bound up with mystery, with the inexplicable. Magritte led an unobtrusive and bourgeois life. He only bore the intolerably commonplace character of modern life by slipping apparently effortlessly between habits of speech and vision, then to trace them back quite calmly and casually to that passionate absoluteness of mystery which is closed to popular judgements and perceptions. After due consideration, he decided that he - like Marcel Duchamp - could only be an "an-artist", a painter breaking with the superficial sensualist platitudes that lead us to believe in the existence of flesh and blood where there are in fact merely paint and lines, or even nothing more than "a heap of rags on the wall", as Magritte wrote to Rauschenberg. He despised artists who became prisoners of their talent and virtuosity, detested an ability that was merely technical and fixated upon materials. His constant and sole concern was with thought in pictures, with no preconceived ideas, no concepts - thought in an exclusively visual sphere, one nevertheless stimulated by the intellect and metaphysics.


Rene Magritte


We do not possess the words with which to express and imagine the mystery of "being", but since Magritte we do have pictures showing how much we lack the thoughts, how much the mind aims at the impossible, but also that it is nonetheless possible never to have to do without the impossible. Will we ever be capable of internalizing Magritte's work, capable of The Labours of Alexander? Will man one day be master of his destiny? There are sufficient reasons for scepticism. Yet with the help of Magritte's pictures, we can at least survive in thought beyond despair and hope, by experiencing the mystery of meaning as inseparable from - but not reducible to - the senses. Meaning develops from a multitude of sensory powers: those of the hands, the ears, the mouth (when speaking, of course, and not when eating). But man cannot maintain that he has control of all these powers. Rather, he realizes himself in them all in linking them to one another. When you see, you are not reading, and nor are you listening, yet without the complex of the other senses, or at least certain other senses which support sight - others being excluded through an internal process - you would be unable to see anything. None of our senses can function on its own. Not until sight includes the body do we really see; yet the unit "body" is by no means at the service of sight alone. Rather, it represents an irregular multiplicity, a field of the most different forces and possibilities which gradually releases one potential after another.

Thee Labours of Alexander

The root of the freshly felled tree is reaching for the axe, holding on to it.
Once again, it is artistic poetry which renders possible the impossible.


Magritte's art demonstrates to the eye and the intellect the highly uncertain character of everything making up the realm of the visible. He enrols in the register of the visible, offering the eye of the observer certain movements and associations such as have settled in the depths of the body. However, this revelation of that which is hidden and latent never takes place in a manner contradictory to visual perception. On no account did Magritte allow the technical level of his work to take on a purely aesthetic surface effect. He considered it neither possible nor desirable that the material preconditions of a work should disturb the utterly immaterial, incorporeal meaning which they have produced. It is not the painter's concern to deny physical or socio-psychological determined-ness; rather, he wishes to rob it of its meaning in favour of an artificial, poetic, new meaning which provides fertile soil for the uncertain, the mysterious.


The meaning inherent in Magritte's work touches directly on the "Anarchy of the senses" to which Rimbaud's poetry bears witness. Those forces which support the visible remain concealed behind it; only painting is capable of rendering them visible. This process does not simply happen: instead, painting actively sets in motion a metamorphosis by means of which it changes and alters these forces solely through the fact that it is depicting them. What matters, Magritte liked to say, is not that the copy should be similar to the model, but that the model should have the courage to resemble its copy. Put another way, it is essential to understand that art does not take up a meaning already inherent in reality; quite the reverse, it is art which confers meaning upon reality by opening up previously undreamt-of paths which - despite and because of its abstract nature - present life with new horizons. Magritte's power and strength lie in his ability to maintain the demand for and necessity of sense in a world which has ceased to be conscious of this desire.

El vestido de noche


El maestro de escuela


Lo spirito d'avventura


The Son of Man


Le fils de l'homme


The Man in the Bowler Hat


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