René Magritte

René Magritte [1898 – 1967] was a Belgian surrealist artist known for his thought-provoking and enigmatic paintings. Many of his paintings play with the concepts of reality, identity and truth, and some of the most recognised painting are The Lovers [1928], Not to Be Reproduced [1937], Golconda [1953], The Son of Man [1964] and The Man with the Bowler Hat [1964]. In this post, I would like to draw attention to and discuss the three others: Memory, The Survivor and The Masterpiece or The Mysteries of the Horizon.

Memory MagritteI. Memory [1948]

Unlike other paintings on this list, Memory is an allegorical painting, a painting with a hidden meaning. It is a striking painting for many reasons and one of those is the contrast of the white and the red – a beautiful white bust here is tainted with blood. That “injury” on the bust may represent this woman’s traumatic and painful memory which she now has to bear. The irony here is that this blood is what makes this bust “come alive” – it gives this woman’s head the qualities of a real person, probably, a person in pain. Memory forms such an integral part of who we are, and what is our reality and daily life that, without it, we are lost. The possible “bleeding” out of “memory” in this image may hint at this person slowly being converted into a statue, which she has become – since we are looking at a bust. One trivia for film lovers here is that this painting probably served as an inspiration for one of the murder scenes in Anthony Minghella’s film The Talented Mr Ripley (1999).      

The Survivor MagritteII. The Survivor [1950]

This is a surrealist symbolic painting which immediately makes a powerful statement, especially if you know the title of the painting – The Survivor. This is again an example of Magritte’s play with our perception of reality. Even though this painting is a mere presentation of a rifle and a patch of something dark spilled underneath – blood, right?, the impact here on our perception is immense and even traumatic. Upon seeing this painting, we are not so concerned with a rifle near the wall and some blood spilled underneath, but what this represents and means. Magritte liked to say that “an image is just an image”, but we ponder – is the rifle here the sole survivor of violence, bleeding out? The personification of a rifle is almost irresistible (“the last man (thing) standing” idea) – but was it – or can it be considered – a prime assailant or a mere victim (being used to achieve the end result)? What is clear is that some kind of violence was committed some time previously in that room depicted and the rifle was the (sole) survivor of that act. The warm, flowery wallpaper only makes this painting more effective since it provides a nice contrast to the “out-of-place” rifle and the blood.    

The Mysteries of the Horizon MagritteIII. The Masterpiece or The Mysteries of the Horizon [1955]

This enigmatic painting is very thought-provoking. In it, we see three gentlemen who look in different directions and face different things. They are presented together in the picture and wear identical clothing, and yet, it is hard to imagine them as part of a group. The fact that they are looking in different directions may mean that their reality is different. The gentlemen also have their own separate waxing crescent moons above their heads, which only emphasises the idea that they exist separately from each other. In that vein, one may ponder how people who seemingly share the same characteristics, who inhabit the same space and who find themselves in such close proximity to one another may still feel isolated and apart from one another. Another message here may be that even if the horizon (or the world itself) does not change, one’s outlook and perception of it may, for example, due to one’s inner beliefs and viewpoints. The perception of the world changes depending on different perspectives of viewing it.    


19 thoughts on “René Magritte

  1. Thank you, Diana. There are always more works created by an artist one admires to discover, and you introduced me to “The Survivor,” which I’d never seen.
    What I admire most about this post is that you restrained your analysis of “The Mysteries” to a mere paragraph. The painting invites pages of examination. It’s obvious you have the perspicacity and insight to know that. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for visiting Under Western Skies.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! “The Survivor” is my new favourite. I like how simple and effective it is – it implies a lot immediately. I agree with you about “The Mysteries”. I do not imagine I even started to do justice to it and my main goal was merely to draw attention to it (for those who are maybe unfamiliar with it) 🙂


    1. I visited it only once which is a pity because I used to live in Brussels, and now I feel bad that I was not there more often. I definitely now appreciate Magritte more. At least, I have another reason to visit Brussels, then.

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        1. Exactly, it was too close. I believe it is also near some fascinating souvenir shop, was it from the Fine Arts museum? I loved that shop, too.

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        2. Btw, speaking of Corto Maltese. It is only when I left Brussels that I found out that there are his murals in the city. I know, I am hopeless 🙂

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  2. Love your suggestions/interpretations of the paintings. Regarding “The Mysteries… ” I did take away from the painting the influence of perception. I often discuss the power of perspectives. It is a fairly simple concept that can provoke a fast and profound shift, when life feels challenging. Again, thanks for sharing.

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    1. I agree. I notice that René Magritte does play around with perspectives in his paintings, for example, painting everyday objects which are as big as a room, and they are even more thought-provoking as a result. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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