René Magritte, often referred to as the most praised Belgian artist of the 20th Century, is also one of the most widely recognized Surrealist artists of the time period. The primary goal of surrealist artists was to channel the unconscious in their works, let go of rationalism, and unlock the power of imagination. This was no exception for Magritte, but what set him apart from other Surrealists, was his deadpan, illustrative approach that clearly portrayed the content of his paintings. This illustrative technique results in contradictions within his paintings; beautiful, simplistic imagery, that simultaneously elicit unsettling thoughts. There is a stark contrast between the seemingly ordinary, and the mysterious. Influences of psychoanalysis can also been seen throughout Magritte’s work; repetition was a key feature throughout his career, and regarded also as a sign of trauma according to Freudian thought.
Above we have the painting “Les Amants,” or “The Lovers” painted by Magritte in 1928, the first in a series of four variations. Here Magritte has portrayed a cinematic-style kiss between two lovers, but in a mysterious twist of the expected, has concealed the faces in cloth, hindering the viewer’s ability to peer in on the scene. Surrealists were often interested in the idea of disguises and masking what lies beneath the surface, it is quite evident that Magritte was no exception to this. It is speculated that this series of paintings was inspired by the death of Magritte’s mother, who drowned herself and was retrieved from the river with her nightgown draped over her face. Although Magritte denied this, the story is still pervasive. In my own personal interpretation of The Lovers, I see the series as a representative of past failed relationships, of the old photos we keep as a reminder of times spent with people who have since become distant memories. “The Lovers” are no longer in love, and that is why their faces have been covered as if they were corpses.
René Magritte had significant influence on movements that followed his death in 1967, including both Pop Art and Conceptual Art. His emphasis on concept over one’s execution was particularly impactful, and he has been cited as key influences by artists such as Andy Warhol and Martin Kippenberger. Magritte’s work is still influential readily on display around the world today.
Hamilton, Adrian. “Smoke and Mirrors: The Surreal Life and Work of René Magritte.” Independent. N.p., 9 June 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/smoke-and-mirrors-the-surreal-life-and-work-of-ren-magritte-2295262.html>
“MoMA | René Magritte. The Lovers. Le Perreux-sur-Marne, 1928.” MoMALearning. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2016. <http://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/rene-magritte-the-lovers-le-perreux-sur-marne-1928>
“Rene Magritte Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. <http://www.theartstory.org/artist-magritte-rene.htm>