Beyond the Canvas
Spring in art part 4: Magritte's mysterious encounters
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
One of the undisputed masters of Surrealism, Belgian René Magritte had a unique artistic perspective on life and nature. In his view "to be surrealist is to banish the notion of déjà vu and seek out the not yet seen." The 'not yet seen' in his paintings comes in the shape of everyday objects that he liked to twist and recontextualise in order to suggest new, dreamlike scenarios. Magritte's imagery is perhaps the most appealing and accessible of the Surrealist movement. His now iconic symbolisms are like a window onto a slightly disorientating reality; we are drawn in, but we cannot fully make sense of what's going on (a bit like feeling tipsy).
This painting is compositionally quite simple in its balanced symmetry. A dove flies over a nest filled with eggs placed on a parapet (a nod to the visual device of the Renaissance?). Magritte has painted a few clouds in the blue sky and we see a verdant forest in the background. All seems very serene, almost normal. But this is Magritte, nothing is what it seems and we should always be prepared to challenge our preconceptions of what everything is. In fact, the dove looks still, as its foliage-filled silhouette was glued to the sky. Same for the trees, not a single leave swinging in the wind. Rarely has nature been depicted with such little sense of movement about it. To be sure, this painting exemplifies one of the key elements of Magritte's artistic vision, i.e. his ability to inject strangeness and poetry in deceptively simple pictures.
But before we all start scratching our heads trying to make sense of what the artist may have intended to represent, let's hear it from the man himself: "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."
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René Magritte, Le Printemps (1965), Private collection - photo credit: Christie's