Painting of the Day

29 Nov


Son of Man (Le fils de l’homme). By Rene Magritte (1898-1967). Oil on canvas, 1964. Belongs to a private collection.

Notes from

A Belgian surrealist painter, Rene Magritte’s witty and thought-provoking paintings sought to have viewers question their perceptions of reality, and become hypersensitive to the world around them. Magritte’s mother was a suicidal woman, which led her husband, Magritte’s father, to lock her up in her room. One day, she escaped, and was found down a nearby river dead, having drowned herself. According to legend, 13 year old Magritte was there when they retrieved the body from the river. As she was pulled from the water, her dress covered her face. This later became a theme in many of Magritte’s paintings in the 1920’s, portraying people with cloth covering their faces.

Magritte created two versions of this painting, of the same name, which both portray a large green apple in the middle of a room. This painting illustrates the many themes running through Magritte’s work. The first is the apple, which he uses to great lengths in many of his works, the most famous of which is The Son of Man, depicting a man wearing a bowling hat, with a green apple covering his face. The other theme is that of placing objects together in an unusual context. Unlike other surrealist artists, who mixed dreamlike images with abstract shapes, Magritte’s works included normal images, placed in surreal contextual situations. The Listening Room is one such painting, portraying a regular green apple, which just so happens to be large enough to fill and entire room.

The Listening Room - Rene Magritte

The Listening Room (La Chambre D’Ecoute). Oil on canvas 1952. Held by Menil Collection, Houston, Texas.

My comments:

I didn’t know much more about Rene Magritte other than that he was a surrealist, but wow, what an incredibly fascinating artist with an incredible oeuvre of works. In researching this painting, I discovered the website, which is an incredible online resource that gives you great images of paintings and includes an impressive array of information about the paintings as well as artists. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, viewing this in conjunction with Rousseau’s painting Carnival Evening that I posted yesterday is an excellent way to demonstrate how Rousseau is classified as a proto-surrealist rather than an actual surrealist. Magritte’s paintings do more than provoke questions; they leave  viewers almost dumbfounded based on how far they go in their absurdity. One of the great things about surrealist works is the psychological exploration they encourage. The apple in Magritte’s paintings may not be iconographical, as an apple could be in non-surrealist paintings, but rather a psychological symbol, or even an archetype, as Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud might have liked to think. I wonder if the apple covering the man’s face in Son of Man is an extension of the motif of cloth covering the face that is seen in other paintings, an allusion to the suicide of Magritte’s insane mother. It’s so interesting to know that Magritte’s mother was insane, because it makes me wonder if growing up with that somehow influenced Magritte’s interest in surrealism. It also makes me wonder how clinically insane people perceive surrealist artworks, and if their reaction differs from that of non-insane people. Would surrealist paintings such as this seem perfectly logical to a person diagnosed with, for example, paranoid schizophrenia? Or does surrealist art act on a whole other plane of its own, mystifying to humans of all psychological states?

It’s also interesting to note that The Listening Room was painted 12 years before Son of Man, and that was painted just 3 years before Magritte’s death. What was it about the green apple that made such an impression on his mind that he still wished to paint the motif 12 years later? Does the title of the later painting have any existential significance? I’ve also noticed that there may be a pattern of artists who tend to dwell on their impending death in their artworks near the end of their lives (Rembrandt and Caravaggio come to mind). Is this not surprising and just obvious that it would occur, or is it worth pondering? Does the way that artists express their personal feelings about death reveal something deep about their character?

One Response to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara November 30, 2012 at 12:10 am #

    Does the apple imply a religious belief in Rene? instead of freud, is he infact concerned about the impact of knowledge on life? Perhaps his Mother had tremendous insight which then developed into insanity after being imprisoned in a room by her husband, There is a school of thought that insanity and extreme intelligence are very closely aligned . Just ask Constance, Aloysius and Diogenes….

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