(Sur)reality: René Magritte's Dreamscape

5 minutes minute read

La Carnaval du Sage by René Magritte La Carnaval du Sage by René Magritte

René Magritte once said, “Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” His enigmatic dreamscapes have come to embody this notion. When confronted with a Magritte canvas, our minds invariably attempt to reveal the hidden meaning behind what our eyes see. Floating baguettes, a shadowy specter, a mountain-size wine glass - all have confounded Magritte's audiences since he created his first Surrealist canvas in the 1920s.

Magritte is well known to have disliked those who attempted to explain the content of his paintings. He preferred the mystery that surrounded them, always insisting that they were merely expressions of his own personal fictions, dreams and neuroses. Thus, viewing a Magritte work is like taking a mental stroll through a dreamscape - rather than trying to find meaning in what may be hidden, one might simply revel in the fantastical nature of his compositions. M.S. Rau's latest acquisition, Le Carnaval du Sage, is no exception, offering an enigmatic view into a Surrealist dreamworld.

Like his Surrealist contemporaries, Magritte filled his canvases with everyday objects in extraordinary configurations. Where he differed from the likes of Dali and Ernst is that his scenes were always grounded in reality. Unlike Dali's melting clocks and morphing figures, Magritte gives his objects a familiar physicality. What he tampers with instead are elements such as gravity and scale - hence, his wine bottles the size of trees and his hovering green apples. The effect may bring his works one step closer to reality than his contemporaries, but his unique juxtaposition of his objects places him firmly within the realm of the surreal.

Le Carnaval du Sage is the perfect example of Magritte's surreal reality. On the surface, the subjects that it contains do not appear overtly surreal; it is their strange contextualization that makes it a masterpiece of Surrealism. A baguette and glass of water - two ordinary everyday objects - are made extraordinary by their incongruous presence in Magritte's dreamscape. Resting along an architectural ledge that runs through the scene, the domestic objects find themselves not on a breakfast table but in an entirely unconventional world. Details such as these are what set Magritte apart as a true genius of the surreal.

30-8762_5It is his statuesque nude, however, who steals the show in La Carnaval du Sage. She represents Magritte's career-spanning obsession with the idea of the hidden versus the revealed. Though she is depicted in the nude, she remains enigmatic, as her face - the most personal element of her body - is masked to the viewer. In a way, Magritte successfully subverts his viewers voyeuristic pleasure by shrouding her face in this way - the effect is a melodramatic one as the viewer is left feeling as though something is just hidden from view. Magritte concealment of his subject's identity is related to a larger Surrealist interest in what lies beyond or beneath visible surfaces.

The specter he includes hovering in the background only increases this sense of drama and unease. Is this the ghost of a past lover, or even the subject herself? The viewer is given no explanation for the eerie presence, but isn't that the point?

Carnaval du SageThe true pleasure of viewing a Magritte is losing oneself in his dreamscapes. When we are confronted with ordinary, everyday objects in unusual settings such as this, we are forced to reconsider them in a new way. All great works of art should challenge our perceptions and evoke our emotions - Magritte's La Carnaval du Sage unquestionably succeeds in both of these regards.

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