Magritte's literary affinities: Baudelaire and Poe.
Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, and Rene Magritte, two writers and one painter connected by profound aesthetic affinities. What is it, in their artistic endeavors and productions, that brings these three geniuses together? Poe and Baudelaire, writing in the nineteenth century, and Magritte, painting in the twentieth, are linked in their search for innovative forms in art and in their resistance to established norms. Poe and Baudelaire came at the tail-end of Romanticism, whereas Magritte, as a Surrealist, belonged to a movement that has sometimes been referred to as the prehensile tail of Romanticism, a Romanticism marked early on my lyricism, exuberance, and exoticism. Romantic writers and artists favored raw nature, ruins, seas, rivers, forests, cataracts, and tempests. Melancholy and personal suffering were catalysts for their imagination.
In his Confessions (1789), Jean-Jacques Rousseau was saying that if he was not necessarily better than other people, he was at least different, a difference that, in effect, repudiated the Classical idea advocated by Nicolas Boileau in his Art poetique (1674) that people everywhere were always, essentially the same. Rousseau's Reveries of a Solitary Walker [Les Reveries du promeneur solitaire] (1782) also unleashed many artists' pent-up individualism, so that in the first half of the nineteenth century, in the wake of the French Revolution (1789), Chateaubriand, Lamartine, and Musset felt free to reject the formal control of French Classicism based on reason in favor of pure emotion and the free unbridled expression of the self. 1830, and the famous "battle" that raged around Victor Hugo's play, Hernani, marked the triumph of the "moderns" against the "ancients." (1) The Romantics discarded the yoke of imitation and Classical discipline in favor of original genius and self expression. Decorum and probability were also rejected in favor of the sentimental and the picturesque.
Poe's and Baudelaire's writings were more tempered, compared to those of the Romantics. Theirs was a reasoned mix of individualism and formal control focusing more on the exploration of new social venues. The exuberant lyricism of the early Romantics was gone. In this sense Baudelaire is arguably the first modern poet, modern in that he assimilated Romanticism and moved beyond it by cultivating a ruthless self-awareness and a feeling for sin and degradation. The very title of his book of poems, The Flowers of Evil [Les Fleurs du mal] (1857), introduced evil into the literary canon, demonstrating thereby that there could be beauty--poetic beauty--in decay, lesbianism, sadism, and the seamy side of life; Baudelaire was the first poet of the modern city. He was also a consummate art critic, and his admiration of Delacroix's art was boundless. He was, in fact, a poet of the interarts, as was Magritte, who used the titles of literary works as the titles for his paintings: The Musings of a Solitary Walker [Les Reveries du promeneur solitaire] (1926, based on Rousseau's work), The Flowers of Evil, and The Domain of Arnheim (1962, based on Poe's work) are three examples among many others. (2)
Delacroix's paintings of battles and massacres, such as the Massacre at Chios (1824), or the Combat of the Giaour and the Pasha (1827), or the famous series of Lion Hunts (1855-1861) appealed to Baudelaire who admired Delacroix's art of violence, dream, and the imagination. Poe's Hans Pfaall, in his "Unparalleled Adventure says that "imagination, feeling herself for once unshackled, roamed at will among the ever-changing wonders of a shadowy and unstable land" (CSP, vol. 1, 21). Imagination was the touchstone, and the Surrealists, Magritte in particular, would tap into the original world of Poe and Baudelaire and find in it an ever-changing source of inspiration.
In the twentieth century, toward the end of World War I, Andre Breton discovered Freud, the unconscious, the dream world, and automatic writing. This is why the Surrealists' spontaneity is frequently compared to that of the Romantics. Indeed, Rousseau's Reveries, lead directly into Magritte's waking dreams--his paintings--in which the unusual juxtaposition of objects and the contradictory pairings of images in the title and the picture seemed like duplications of Freud's "dream work" where "displacement," "condensation," and "composition" evoke astonishment and surprise (Freud 50, 73-4).
Despite being linked with the Surrealists, Magritte, basically escapes categorization. Although most Surrealist writers and painters were using automatism and dreams for their inspiration, Magritte was more interested in objects and the external world. He represented things in a manner that was realistic, but his realism was subverted by startling juxtapositions and titles that all too frequently negated their descriptive purpose. The paintings may have looked like dreams, but Magritte's premeditated craft belied the unconscious emanations of automatism advocated by Breton. Also, Magritte's art became more and more self-reflexive and nonmimetic as it moved into new and unexplored territory; he went where no one had gone before, except perhaps Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst, and he went much farther. Magritte's art combines Chirico's haunting images with Poe's descriptive precision in order to shape plausible paintings from improbable combinations of objects, places, and people.
Rimbaud's celebrated "alchemy of the word," that is, the transmutation of the detritus of our daily lives into gold by the transformative powers of language, evolved into the Surrealists' desire to change the world by unleashing the resources of their creative energies (Caws, xi). For Magritte, the alchemy of the word became the alchemy of the image, due to the fact that images, necessarily, contain representations of objects, and their meaning derives from naming them. Magritte's titles are full of names for objects and his paintings dramatize them. For example, Familiar Objects [Les Objets familiers] (1927-28)--the painting that juxtaposes a sponge, a pitcher, a conch, a blue bow, and a lemon--forces us to look at the arbitrariness of this assemblage. The objects have a combined hallucinatory effect that helps to explain Breton's definition of Surrealism as the resolution of dream and reality "into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality" (Manifestoes 14) ["en une sorte de realite absolue, de surrealite"] (Manifestes 24).
Objects were given a privileged role in the Surrealist canon. In Entretiens, Breton defined the object-poem as a composition combining the resources of poetry and visual art, and he referred to Magritte's masterful ability to place resonant concrete words such as "mountain" or "pipe" in relation to forms that repudiate them or which do not correspond to them rationally (162). Magritte himself wrote a famous tract, entitled "The Use of Words," in which he demonstrated that an object could be replaced by its image, or by its name, or by any form, or, for that matter, by any word (reproduced in Gablik 138-40).
This fascination with objects prompted Paul Eluard, the poet, to say in his book, Pablo Picasso, that one day "all men will communicate through the vision of things," and that, ultimately, man will find himself represented simply by the objects that characterize him (Eluard 40). None of these pronouncements, no matter how exaggerated, altered the fact that Magritte and the Surrealists wanted to reveal the world's mystery while resolving the contradictions between life and death, past and present, dream and reality, the conscious and the unconscious. In these endeavors, in addition to their obsession with objects, the Surrealists found inspiration in Romantic castles and ruins, Poe's sense of terror, and Baudelaire's "spleen,"
Poe wrote tales of horror and mystery, and Baudelaire, the poet of "evil" and ennui, translated many of his works: his adventure stories, tales of shipwreck, detective stories, mystical ghost stories, horror stories, and stories that explore modern city life; and Magritte, an admirer of both Poe and Baudelaire, painted oils such as The Flowers of Evil [Les Fleurs du mal] (1946) and The Domain of Arnheim [Le Domaine d'Arnheim] (1962, figure 7), in which he played with mystery and existential angst, blending them with juxtapositions that defamiliarized people, places, animals, and everyday objects. In Ecrits complets, Magritte wrote that he felt in complete harmony with Poe's unusual poetic interests, and that he sensed in him the presence of a kindred spirit (EC 619); and in a letter to his friend, Edward James, Magritte wrote that he painted The Domain of Arnheim as a tribute to Poe's tale (Abadie 251). In a sense, painting this tale was also a tribute to Baudelaire who translated it. Poe, like Baudelaire, was the late heir to Romanticism, and he cultivated a literature of mystery, dramatizing images of the unconscious while coupling them with the precision of cryptograms, anagrams, and the musicality of poetry. His story, "The Imp of the Perverse," uses Pym's name, the hero of another narrative, as an anagram. (3) Not surprising then that Magritte's painting, The Imp of the Perverse [Le Demon de la perversitel (1928), should derive from Poe.
As a precursor, Poe is the acknowledged inventor of the detective story. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the narrative of a crime solved by a French detective, C. Auguste Dupin, influenced Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, the authors of Fantesmas, also the protagonist of a crime thriller series that enthralled readers in the early part of the twentieth century. Magritte was a fan of both Dupin (the detective) and Fantomas (the criminal). If Dupin's acumen was able to solve all crimes, Fantomas' clever disguises enabled him to elude all pursuit. Magritte's two paintings, Flame Rekindled [Le Retour de flamme] (1943) and The Murdered Threatened [L'Assassin menace] (1926), are a tribute to Fant6mas's ingenuity and to Magritte's admiration of the genre that Poe originated. In one painting, a giant Fantomas hovers over the city of Paris, and in the other, two pursuers, wearing bowler hats, one holding a club, the other a net, wait poised at the entrance of a room where a man is calmly listening to music; next to him is a naked woman lying on a red divan, blood flowing from her mouth.
If Poe narrates the uncanny, and Magritte paints it, he also often paints the unseen. The Lovers Iles Amants] (1928) is a painting of a couple kissing, their heads covered with a cloth so that the pair remains anonymous. The mystery of the unknown is the enigma that Magritte wishes to convey because enigma goes hand in glove with the mystery of existence and the unanswerable questions concerning individual consciousness both before birth and after death. In the conclusion to Eureka Poe had already addressed this existential rent and the accompanying feelings of ontological uncertainty.
As for Poe's musicality, when the man in "The Raven" answers a tapping at his chamber door, he finds "darkness there and nothing more," and his dreams are those no mortal ever dreamed before. In that silence he hears the whispered word "Lenore," soon echoed by the raven's "Nevermore" (CSP, vol. 2, 336). Poe's "Poetic Principle" (CSP, vol. 2, 285-304) influenced Baudelaire, Mallarme, Valery, and all the French Symbolist poets who infused their poetry with music, assonance, connotation, and repetition. "Music above everything:' ["De la musique avant toute chose",] wrote Verlaine, in his "Art Poetique" (OC, vol. 1,513). Baudelaire's rhymes and rhythms, as in the poem "Harmonie du soir" (FM 63), also echo Poe's musicality; Magritte himself incorporated musical scores into his art, as in the watercolor and crayon piece entitled Musical Moments [Moments musicaux] (1961), among many others.
In The Flowers of Evil, Baudelaire combined innovation and tradition using a poetics that was revolutionary in voice, theme, and tone. He and Poe, his "twin sour cultivated an aesthetics of Beauty. Indeed, Poe's quest for Beauty, in what he termed "the terror of the sour evolved into Baudelaire's concept of beauty as heterogeneous, a beauty linked to time--a time that combines qualities of the "eternal"--that is, a Platonic ideal of Beauty.
As a Surrealist, Magritte was not interested in aesthetic beauty per se, and he replaced it with wonder and astonishment. Apollinaire, sometimes referred to as the father of Surrealism, advocated the element of surprise in beauty; and Breton, the guru of Surrealism, borrowing Lautreamones definition of beauty--"Beautiful as the unexpected meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella"--made the juxtaposition of disparate objects the basic element of surprise (qtd. in Waldberg 24). But much earlier, in Aesthetic Curiosities (the Universal exhibition of 1855), Baudelaire had written that "the beautiful is what is bizarre" (qtd. in Waldberg 25). It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Breton, in his 1924 Manifestoes ofSurrealism, should quote the poet, Pierre Reverdy, in saying that the image "cannot be born from a comparison" because "the more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be" (Manifestoes 20); ["ne peut naitre d'une comparaison ... plus les rapports des deux realites rapprochees seront lointains et justes, plus 'Image sera forte] (Manifestes 31). Magritte incorporated the Surrealist aesthetic of juxtaposing distant images into his own art and in his titles, and his paintings, ever since, have entranced and perplexed his observers.
For example, Magritte's The Glass Key [La Clef de verre] (1959) is a painting of a rock balancing on the ridge of a mountain gorge, and The Pebble [Le Gala] (1948, figure 3) is a painting of a woman. (4) These two paintings contain neither a key nor a pebble, and both are marked by contradiction. A glass key is not a rock, and a pebble is not a woman. Basically, the painting and its caption serve to highlight the arbitrariness of the sign, as well as Magritte's poetic license to name a rock a "glass key" if he wants to. This arbitrariness allows him to name a painting of a woman-statue, The Flowers of Evil, after Baudelaire, and a painting of a bird mountain, The Domain of Arnheim, after Poe. The observer is obliged to work through these playful transpositions. Indeed, Magritte has given Poe's word-play a visible dimension even as he incorporates Baudelaire's poetry into his images. Breton himself notes that Poe taught him to decipher life like a cryptogram, and in his own tribute to Poe's legacy, he calls him a Surrealist in adventure; his tribute to Baudelaire is that he is a Surrealist in morals (Manifestes 39).
Magritte's paintings do not illustrate their literary counterparts, nor are they descriptive. Rather, they are a wry, oblique, and sometimes ironic commentary on them, and they are based on aesthetic and philosophical interests that are more germane to his vision of the world than the writers'. The influences are striking, nonetheless, and the purpose of this essay--a study of Magritte's art in relation to Baudelaire and Poe--will be to track the implicit dialogue between the visual realm and the written. Although the paintings function as independent entities, their connotations are enhanced by their literary titles and familiarity with the written text.
This dialogue between Magritte's images and the writers' words is essentially subversive because elcphrasis, defined as the rhetorical description of an image or an object, derives from Horace's Ut Pictura Poesis which posits the similitude between poetry and painting. Commentators also refer to Homer's description of Achilles' shield in Book 18 of the Iliad as the beginning of the ekphrastic tradition--the result of an implicit comparison between the visual and the verbal means of description.
Although many of Magritte's titles are borrowed from literary works, they are, generally speaking, not descriptive, that is, they do not illustrate the literary work nor do they describe the image. This is why they are subversive. In the case of Poe and Baudelaire, Magritte's titles do not represent the writings or the pictures. Why should an eagle-mountain bear the caption The Domain of Arnheim? And, as we read Poe's story, we realize that Magritte's painting does not really illustrate it. As we go back and forth between the two, we conclude that there are some similarities, but not many. The same is true for Magritte's painting, The Flowers of Evil, which relates only to one of Baudelaire's poems: "Beauty"
Although similarities exist, we should not forget that both Poe and Baudelaire approach their subjects from a tradition of rhetorical realism, whereas Magritte's art subverts realism at every turn, reminding us that his paintings are artifacts calling attention to themselves rather than the world out there or the literary work whose title they borrow. His paintings are not paintings of landscapes--they are the landscape of painting. (5)
Magritte's titles, like his paintings, are an invitation to probe the relation between reality, representation, and the creative process. How, for example, do we compare Baudelaire's The Flowers of Evil (1857) with a painting using the same title? The picture is a quasi-literal transcription of a line from Baudelaire's poem, "La Beaute" (33): "Oh mortals! My beauty is like a dream of stone", [le suis belle, 6 mortels! comme un reve de pierre".1 This dream of stone is both a challenge and a revelation. In Baudelaire's poem, the woman's breast inspires a love that is as eternal and as mute as matter, run amour / Eternel et muet ainsi que la matiere".] Her eyes are mirrors that render everything more beautiful, ["De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles"], and she is the idealized, symbolic beauty of azure skies and the enigmatic sphinx, ["Je trone dans l'azur comme un sphinx incompris".] (6)
Magritte's painting combines all these elements--stone, matter, beauty, enigma--into a representation of a naked woman whose eyes are blank and whose flesh is the color of the rose she is holding in her left hand. In Magritte, poete visible, Philippe Roberts-Jones says that Magritte was fascinated by the relationship between stone and flesh (25); and in Ecrits complets Magritte says that "the flesh statue of a young and naked woman is holding in her hand a rose made of flesh, (6) ["La statue de chair d'une jeune femme nue tient a la main une rose de chair"] (175). Despite the color of her flesh, the woman also looks like a statue. Is she alive or dead? Is she flesh or stone? The visual ambiguity contradicts our expectations and we have to make sense of this undecidability. This is a typical postmodern dilemma that Jacques Derrida has explored at some length and which we, as readers and observers, need to address.
A reproducible image of Magritte's Les Fleurs du mal is not available. Nonetheless, the statue/woman who is Lola de Valence--figure 2--is essentially a clone of the statue/woman in Les Fleurs du mal. My commentary applies to both images.
When we focus on the statue-like elements of the woman, we place the living elements "under erasure but the trace of their presence refuses to go away and remains as a difference and a deferral of meaning. The difference between the real and the unreal generates the undecidability and it, in turn, undermines the realism of the representation (Derrida 62). The ambiguity contributes to the picture's facticity. These contradictions are at work everywhere in Magritte's oeuvre and the titles borrowed from literature are no exception. They are very much a part of the undecidability--an undecidability that is not present in Baudelaire's poem. The voice in the poem is that of Beauty herself praising the hard virtues of Art; and the clarity of her eyes reflects Art's eternal values.
When The Flowers of Evil was published in 1857, the book was condemned by the courts as immoral because Baudelaire seemed to be advocating cruelty, lesbianism, sadism, and decay. Magritte says, not without irony, that "a stone statue, entirely of flesh, may seem immoral because it is too carnal, not to mention the flesh flower that the statue holds in its hand," ["Une statue entierement de chair peut paraitre immorale parce que trop charnelle et aussi la fleur de chair que la statue tient a la main"] (EC 260). Baudelaire's book was censured because the court's sense of decency was outraged. It is interesting that Magritte should pick up on a new sense of bourgeois outrage in relation to his painting, the carnal rose, and the painting's ambiguity, and the subversion of representation.
Four years after painting The Flowers of Evil, Magritte painted Baudelaire's "dream of stone thus rendering visible both the Surrealists' emphasis on the importance of dreams and the exact line from the poem, "La Beaute." He entitled it The Art of Conversation I [L'Art de la conversation I] (1950, figure I). In this oil, the word "Reve" ("Dream") is painted in block letters of gray stone, and in capitals. The dream has become the written word and it has solidity, in contrast with dreams which are generally considered to be ephemeral and frequently forgotten. Magritte's picture is a monumental dream and it stands tall on a desolate brown landscape of gray stone blocks against a stormy sky with clouds that remind us of Chateaubriand's invocation to autumn: "Rise swiftly, coveted storms" (Rend, Putter trans. 99) nevez-vous vite, orages desires"] (Rene 183). For the Romantics, storms, like the descriptions of wild forests, were the objective correlatives of inner turbulence and unfettered self-expression, whereas for the Surrealists self-expression was less turbulent and more dreamlike. Although people do talk about their dreams, this title is surely ironic. Once again, we are dealing with contradiction: the permanence of the stone image versus the impermanence of dreams, and our attention oscillates between this undecidability. We should not forget, however, that Magritte was more interested in the bizarre juxtaposition of everyday objects than in the dream world per se.
Another painting--Lola de Valence (1948, figure 2)--like The Flowers of Evil, is also a sensuous display of flesh and stone. This oil is based on Baudelaire's four-line poem entitled "Lola de Valence the last of the 25 added poems ("Poemes Ajoutes") to the posthumous edition of Les Fleurs du mal (FM 188). Baudelaire's poem of 1863 was inspired by Edouard Manet's oil of 1862, also entitled Lola de Valence.' In Baudelaire's poem, the realism of Manet's fully-clothed woman becomes the unexpected charm of a pink and black jewel, ["Le charme inattendu d'un bijou rose et noir"]. In Magritte's oil, the woman is naked and her flesh, as in The Flowers of Evil, is the color of the rose she is holding in her left hand. In both paintings, the right hand and hip are leaning against a rectangular stone pedestal. Each naked body has the same sensuous contours and the eyes are blank, as on a statue. The essential difference between the two is the background motif and the color of the hair--flesh-colored in The Flowers of Evil, and black in Lola de Valence--hence the comparison to a pink and black jewel. A jewel is a stone, not living flesh, and so, the contradictions within Magritte's representations and Baudelaire's poems are the same, and they are based on unexpected affinities between flesh and stone, a living subject and inorganic matter.
In Baudelaire's poem, "La Beaute," the woman's eyes are mirrors, whereas the eyes of the women in Magritte's paintings are blank Nonetheless, in many paintings, Magritte uses mirrors in order to destabilize realism in art. The most noteworthy oil that does this is, arguably, The False Mirror [Le Faux miroir] (1929), the painting of a human eye in which the iris is a blue sky with white clouds pierced by the black hole of the pupil. To see the world through the subjective lens of perception means that every eye distorts reality. Art is no exception, and its mimetic powers are limited because a work of art is always only one representation among many. For Baudelaire to say that the eyes of his Beauty are pure mirrors means that they reflect his idealized vision of beauty, nothing more. In this sense, Magritte's False Mirror is also "pure" because it too is entirely subjective.
Yet another variant of Baudelaires dream of stone is Magritte's The Pebble [Le Galet] (1948, figure 3)--a comic take on the statuesque immobility of the woman in The Flowers of Evil and Lola de Valence. In The Pebble, the woman is naked, once again, and although she has the flesh-colored tones of the other two, she is no longer a statue. There is movement in her manifest desire as this beauty licks her right shoulder with a lascivious tongue, her left hand caresses her left breast, and her right hand touches the red cloth that barely covers the pubic region. There is an ironic transition from the very serious Flowers of Evil and the pink-and-black jewel who is Lola de Valence, to the woman in The Pebble who is in soft pursuit of pleasure--pleasure being one of the dominant themes in Magritte's work: Pleasure [Le Plaisir] (1926), The Master of Revels [Le Maitre du plaisir] (1928), The Pleasure Principle [Le Principe du plaisid (1937), The Depths of Pleasure [Les Profondeurs du plaisir] (1948), Toward Pleasure [A la rencontre du plaisir] (1950). These progressive slidings of pleasure (Glissernents progressifs du plaisir--the title of a film script), as Main Robbe-Grillet calls them, slide back and forth from one painting to another manifesting themselves as links or affinities between women, stones, mountains, and eggs, to mention only some of them.
The eroticism of The Pebble belies the title insofar as a pebble, that is, a small stone, lacks the grandiose connotations of Baudelaire's dream or the mass of Magritte's rocks. Yet the poet's dream of stone manifests itself dramatically in Magritte's Castle of the Pyrenees [Le Chateau des Pyrenees] (1959), an oil that depicts a huge rock with a castle on top suspended over the sea. In French, faire des chateaux en Espagne means to daydream. Magritte's painting renders the daydream visible, but instead of fusing the stone and a woman, Magritte juxtaposes the two, because in French the sea connotes woman (la mer, la mere) as well as the biological origins of life--organic origins that contrast with the inanimate object represented by a rock or a pebble.
Another rock, The Active Voice [La Voix active] (1951), is a painting of a black volcanic rock on a pink background--the same colors that Baudelaire attributes to Lola, the jewel. Sarah Whitfield points out that the shape of this rock is both figurative and abstract, general and specific (Whitfield 105), and Magritte would add that "stones reveal to us the perfection of their existence" (EC 344)--which, in itself, is a form of silent communication. Magritte likes rocks very much and he believes that they are inherently beautiful (EC 612). But stones need an observer to activate their message, and Magritte obliges repeatedly by painting rocks entitled The Invisible World [Le Monde invisible] (1953/1954), The Visible World [Le Monde visible] (1947), and The Glass Key [La Clef de verre] (1959), among others. The Pebble itself is one of many variants.
We might call these variations on a theme "lateral connotations," due to the interchangeability of women-statues, stones, pebbles, rocks, and jewels, even as the pink and black colors reinforce the symbolic substitutions. In "Rhetorique de l'image Roland Barthes names this floating chain of signifiers "des connotateure--connotators (40), and Michel Foucault, in his book on Magritte entitled This is Not a Pipe (an essay based on Magritte's painting entitled The Treachery of Images [La Trahison des images] (1929, figure 4), emphasizes the distinction between resemblance and similitude. Resemblance is the equivalent of representation, that is, the painting of a pipe looks like a pipe, whereas with similitude, the image is cast adrift because, as James Harkness points out, the "anchor" is gone. Things may look alike but none can claim "the privileged status of 'model'" (Harkness 10). In other words, the painting of a pipe is not a real pipe because you can't smoke it. Yet, considering all the pipes that Magritte has painted, there is a similitude between them. Like the pipe, the pebble in the painting entitled The Pebble (the image is in the title, not the painting) is cast adrift and it floats from one painting to another (or its title) as a pink and black jewel, a rock, or a statue, and all these signifieds, in their cumulative thrust, connote woman and desire.
Another Lola de Valence, also painted in 1948, is a watercolor, not an oil. This image conflates Lola de Valence, the oil, with The Pebble. The woman licking her shoulder is now kissing her double, that is, the watercolor depicts a two-headed woman kissing herself. David Sylvester notes that next to a space where a title is missing Magritte has written "title of Baudelaire's poem with the pink and black jewer nitre du poeme de Baudelaire avec le bijou rose et noir"1 (Sylvester CR, vol. 4, 106). Magritte is alluding to "Lola de Valence the poem, but he could also be conflating two of Baudelaire's poems, "Lesbos" and "Femmes Damnees" (Poemes 150-55), because in "Lesbos" the women "caress the ripe fruits of their nubility." ["Caressent les fruits murs de leur nubilite"](150), and in "Femmes Damnees" we hear Delphine say: "Hyppolite, Oh my sister! turn your face, / You, my soul and my heart, my all, my other half", ["Hyppolite, o ma soeur! tourne donc ton visage, / Toi, mon ame et mon coeur, mon tout et ma moitie"] (153; my translation). Magritte does not always cite his sources, but we know that Baudelaire's poems provided a frequent refrain for his paintings. It was the lesbian theme of the damned women that so infuriated the French court when it banned these poems in 1857, and it was precisely this eroticism that appealed to Magritte because eroticism is a dominant theme in his art.
Although The Pebble, as a title, masks the sensuousness of the woman in the painting, Magritte's Giantess [La Geantel (1931, figure 5), bears the same title as Baudelaire's sonnet, [La Geante] (34), who, in the poem, is a very big curvaceous woman. This giantess, this creature of an exuberant Nature, has "magnificent curves," ["magnifiques formes",] "enormous knees," ["genoux enormes",] and, when in repose, stretches
"across the countryside," ["a travers la campagne".] The poet would sleep in "the shadow of her breasts," ["a l'ombre de ses seins",] "like a peaceful hamlet at the foot of a mountain," ["Comme un hameau paisible au pied d'une montagne"] (Les Fleurs du mal 34) (8)
In the painting, Magritte situates this union of woman, landscape, and desire inside a room, not outside. Nature, so prominent in Baudelaire's poem, is absent from this interior setting because the painting is the visible rendition not only of Baudelaire's sonnet but also of Paul Nouges adaptation of it. The interior setting is thus more suited to Nouges poem, a poem in which Nouge has retained the words of Baudelaire's rhyme scheme, most of his tropes, and the enchantment that the poet feels in the presence of this enormous and magnificent woman. Her face, according to David Sylvester, bears a striking resemblance to Marthe Beauvoisin, Nouges companion. According to Marcel Marien, the title was suggested by Nouge (Sylvester CR, vol. 2, 175-76).
The reproduction of Nouges poem in white ink on a black panel is, nonetheless, signed Baudelaire, although it should have read: "This is not a Baudelaire, signe Paul Nouge." Such attribution would echo the caption "Ceci n'est pas une pipe", ["This is not a pipe,"] in the The Treachery of Images (1929, figure 5), and anticipate Max Ernst's alteration of Magritte's Force of Habit[La Force de l'habitudel (1960), the painting of a green apple with the caption above it in English that reads: "This is not an apple." Ernst painted a bird looking out of a cage on the apple and, below the apple he wrote: "Ceci n'est pas un Magritte--signe Max Ernst", ["This is not a Magritte--signed Max Ernst."] A counter signature under Baudelaire's poem by Nouge would have made a nice play on meaning, appropriation, and authenticity. (9)
In The Giantess, to the left of the black panel on which the poem is inscribed, is the woman--naked, arms behind her head, in a frontal, semi-profile view, and she is standing on the floorboards, one arm touching the ceiling. Behind her, against the wall, is a red (velvet?) sofa, and to the left of the sofa is a white-paneled door. In the corner, next to the door and the wall panels, on the left, is a table with a vase of roses on it. There is a nondescript painting on the wall above the panels. Next to the panels--left foreground--is a small man--small that is, in relation to everything else. He is bareheaded, appears to be in his thirties or forties, is wearing a dark overcoat, and we see him from behind. The giant woman displays her nakedness in what can be construed as a provocative, sensuous stance. Her curves, breasts, legs, and pubis--although not as exotic as Baudelaire's descriptions, or Nouges, are on display, and she dwarfs the man.
This painting pays tribute to the two poems that inspired it. Unlike The Flowers of Evil, or Lola, however, it does not blend flesh and stone, nor, like The Pebble, is it ironic. The woman's great size and her nakedness, in relation to the small overdressed man, is also a tribute to the magnificence of her gender. The size of beauty is, after all, in the eyes of the beholder. In the context of Surrealism, it is Woman who will save the world!
Baudelaire's poem, The Giantess, conflates the Romantics adoration of Nature with this Woman, thereby anticipating the Surrealists' adoration of Her as the savior of mankind. Nadia is Breton's paean to her gender as the incarnation of freedom and love--the necessary prelude to the kind of liberation that will, in time, redeem the world because, says Breton, the name "Nadja," is the beginning of the Russian word for hope (Nadja 66). The Romantics' desire for another world situated elsewhere in space and time still found purchase with Poe and Baudelaire, both of whom wanted to be "anywhere out of this world" (Poemes 243). For the Surrealists, however, real life was here in the present. Paris, as Ferdinand Alquie points out, replaced exotic locales such as Venice and the forests of America because "the present reveals to man the sum of his powers" (Alquie 13). Breton's paradise regained was to be that of everyday life ceaselessly transformed into the marvelous and luminous abode of love (Alquie 13).
The Giantess of 1931 seems more closely related to Baudelaire's poem than the painting of "a large leaf whose stem was a trunk with its roots stuck straight into the ground in remembrance of Baudelaire," and which Magritte also entitled The Giantess [La Geante] (1935, figure 6), (qtd. in Torczyner 131). (10) Magritte links both paintings directly to Baudelaire, and both embody elements of the poem: the giant woman in the first, and nature in the second. In Baudelaire's poem "Correspondances," "Nature is a temple where living pillars / Sometimes utter confusing words," ["La Nature est un temple oil de vivants pilliers / Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles";] (Les Fleurs du mal 22; my trans.).
Baudelaire's "living pillars" speak of correspondences and synesthesia and Magritte's giant leaf has a corresponding and obvious affinity with the tree. The shape of the leaf resembles the crown of the tree, and the veins of the leaf are its limbs. There is a natural link between the small leaf and the giant tree but, in this case, the leaf has become the giant, ["une feuille geante",] and the feminine gender of the leaf is La Geante of Magritte's title. The identical titles of the two paintings and the fusion of woman with nature in Baudelaire's poem imply an overlapping correspondence of the two in Magritte's mind. Like Baudelaire's correspondences, Magritte's natural affinities produce living statues, birds of stone, bird-leaves, and flowers whose stamens and pistils are miniature cowbells: The Flowers of the Abyss [Les Fleurs de l'ablme] (1928, figure 8). Such transformations are legion and, in Magritte's new order of things, they play a privileged role as floating "connotators" thereby establishing surprising links between the organic and the inorganic, between mineral and vegetable, between gravitation and levitation. Magritte's paintings do, in fact, illustrate Breton's desire to resolve all contradictions into the higher reality that he named Surreality.
Edgar Allan Poe
Rousseau introduced nature into literature as subject matter, and the Romantics generated mountains and cataracts of pathetic fallacies to describe their feelings. In Baudelaire's poem, "Correspondances," nature became a temple where living pillars sometimes uttered confusing words (FM 22), and Poe, like Jules Verne, who also admired him, became a literary explorer, both at sea and in the air. His whirlpools and vortices, however, are far more menacing than the lakes and forests of the Romantics or Baudelaire's temple of nature. Poe's images can, in fact, be construed as terrifying descriptions of the unconscious. For Magritte, nature is more benign, even playful, and its natural laws can be altered at will in order to defy gravity or produce new species. The Idol [L'Idole] (1965) is a stone bird that flies, and The Natural Graces [Les Graces naturelles] (1963) are leaves of birds that would fly were they not anchored to the ground. Ultimately, Magritte, like the other Surrealists, was more interested in objects and their function as lateral connotators.
One of the new species that Magritte introduced was the bird-mountain, which he named The Domain of Arnheim [Le Domaine d'Arnheim] (1962, figure 7), a tribute to Poe's short story. Poe, says Magritte, was a kindred soul and one of his favorite writers (EC 619). Indeed, the fantasy of this story carries over into the painting. (11) Both works depict mountains, but the romantic lushness of Poe's landscape--a profusion of flowers, ferns, trees, animals, river, and lakes in transparent, multicolored and vibrant hues--contrasts with the chiseled, stark landscape of Magritte's painting of a mountain-eagle. In the foreground there is a bird's nest with three eggs in it, placed on a stone wall. The giant bird seems to be guarding the eggs, and theirwhiteness is duplicated in a crescent moon that hangs in the sky above the bird's head. Snow, ice, and rock formations in light and shadow shape the bird's wings. Despite fundamental differences in the two men's rendition of nature, certain similarities are amusing and sometimes ironic.
Poe's story embodies elements of an idealized Romanticism, whereas Magritte's painting, for all its "strangeness," is cool and detached. Poe refers to the strangeness of his landscape which is "the handiwork of the angels that hover between man and God" (DOA 353). Magritte composes a mountain of ice, snow, and rock, whereas Poe fancies "a panoramic cataract of rubies, sapphires, opals and golden onyxes rolling silently out of the sky" (DOA 357). Poe's ivory canoe looks like an irregular crescent with a beak (DOA 358), whereas Magritte's moon is the crescent above the bird's beak. Ellison, Poe's hero, in searching for the right domain, is looking for a place that will unite the two extremes of detail and generality (DOA 354), whereas Magritte fuses the extremes of the organic bird and the inorganic mountain--flesh and stone--into the profile of an eagle. The wry detail is in the three eggs, the nest, and the wall. The eggs can signify nature, whereas the wall is man-made, but the stones that form the wall are presumably from the mountain, that is, the mother bird. This nest-egg resonates with Ellison's nest egg--the princely fortune he has inherited--the four hundred and fifty million dollars that facilitate the realization of his dream--the domain of Arnheim.
As Renee Hubert notes, the first part of Poe's tale focuses on the aesthetic formulation of an ideal, while the second part describes the realization of this ideal (Hubert 71). Poe's theoretical discussion advances the notion that art is superior to nature, but Ellison's dream of a landscape-garden demonstrates that by overcoming the raw imperfections of nature, art can fuse the two. Magritte has no interest in overcoming the imperfections of nature. Rather, he reinvents the laws of nature in order to paint new species: a stone bird, The Idol [L'Idole] (1965), a bird-mountain, The Domain of Arnheim, and bird-leaves or leaves as birds, Treasure Island Wile au tresor] (1942), among others. In The Idol, a stone bird is flying over a rocky shore, and its flight, like the rock in The Castle of the Pyrenees, defies gravity. Magritte's birds not only defy gravity, they also challenge the laws of biology. These marvelous creatures multiply and their evolutionary species shape unexpected affinities between the organic and the inorganic. Charles Darwin used the term "abominable mystery" to describe the evolutionary diversity within nature. Magritte should perhaps have borrowed the word "abominable" when describing the diversity of the imaginary species that appear in so many of his paintings, such as for example, The Companions of Fear [Les Compagnons de la peur] (1942), The Clearing [La Clairiere] (1944), and The Flavor of Tears [La Saveur des lames] (1948), and The Flowers of the Abyss [Les Fleurs de l'ablme] (1928, figure 8).
Under different circumstances, Ellison might have become a painter (DOA 348), like Magritte, and he wants to create a landscape garden of "physical loveliness" that will correspond to his poetic intuition of "novel forms of beauty" (DOA 348). Beauty plays no role in Magritte's thinking, and it would be difficult to construe his paintings as beautiful. Ellison, however, like Poe and Baudelaire, believes in Beauty, and the ending of Poe's story illustrates it, whereas Magritte, as a conceptual artist, believes in ideas, cognition, and a certain opaqueness of being. For him, existence is a mystery, and he wants his art to convey the unfathomable dimensions of this mystery: life and death. For Poe, the painter of genius produces combinations of scenery that do not exist in nature, as does Magritte, but the difference between Ellison and Magritte is the difference between the Romantic and the Surrealist. Although Magritte, like Ellison, creates new forms and different landscapes, his ascetic mountain contrasts forcefully with Poe's "Paradise of Arnheim" where "flocks of golden and crimson birds--lily-fringed lakes--meadows of violets, tulips, poppies, hyacinths, and tuberoses" gush with entrancing melody (DOA 360). Perhaps the only similarities, besides the strangeness, are the "ponderous wings" of the gate to paradise and the "purple mountains" (DOA 360). Poe's "semi-Gothic, semi-Saracenic architecture, sustaining itself by miracle in mid-air" (DOA 360) is missing, and so are the Sylphs, the Fairies, the Genii, and the Gnomes (DOA 360). If this is beauty, Magritte will have none of it. The mother eagle guarding her nest is more than enough, and if there is a hint of Saracenic splendor it is in the crescent moon above her head.
Magritte had already painted variations of The Domain of Arnheim, as far back as 1933. In a letter to Andre Bosmans, dated April 6, 1959, Magritte explains this preliminary work as follows:
For the development of La fontaine de jouvence (The Fountain of Youth), I can say that it began about 1933-34; I was trying to paint a mountain and thought of giving it a bird's shape and calling this image Le domaine d'Arnheim, the title of one of Poe's stories. Poe would have liked seeing this mountain (he shows us landscapes and mountains in his story). Fortune faite (The Fortune Made) and La fontaine de jouvence are stories bearing such inscriptions as 'Coblenz: 'Roseau' (or the date in Les verres fumes (The Dark Glasses) 'a boire,' 'a manger' (to drink, to eat) as in Fortune faite. These stones can be seen as a little piece of Le domaine d'Arnheim. To be more thorough, I mustn't forget to say that between Le domaine d'Arnheim and La fontaine de jouvence came Le sourire (The Smile), which was a very old stone--without the bird's head--bearing a date of five figures. (12) (qtd. in Torczyner 113)
The 1949 version of The Domain of Arnheim is similar to the painting entitled Evening Falls [Le Soir qui tombe] (1964), because the window pane inside the room replicates the daytime landscape beyond the window. The bird's head on the shard of glass is identical to the bird's head on the mountain. There is broken glass on the window sill but no nest of eggs. The two paintings ask the same question: is perception subjective or objective, and is reality inside the head of the observer or out there in the world beyond the window? Finally, both paintings demonstrate the fact that the outmoded notion of art as mimesis has broken down.
The Domain of Arnheim and its variants are not the only paintings that derive from Poe's story. In Not to Be Reproduced [La Reproduction interdite](1937, figure 9), on the mantelpiece, in front of a mirror, is a copy of the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym [Aventures d'Arthur Gordon Pym]. Half of the cover is reflected in the mirror whose frame obscures the other half. Visible in the reflection are the letters AV and GOR of the title, the narrative that Baudelaire himself translated into French. A man with dark hair and wearing a dark jacket stands in front of the mirror, facing it. The book is on his right on the mantelpiece. The image in the mirror is the back of the man's head, neck, and jacket. It is not, as we might expect, a frontal image. The title of the painting, as usual, is enigmatic. What is it that is not to be reproduced? His face, Pym's adventure? Are Pym's adventures so horrific that no one in his right mind would ever want to duplicate them, or, have they left such an indelible imprint on the man's face that his visage is too terrible to contemplate? Perhaps Poe's narrative can provide the answer. I will summarize Pym's misadventures to see if anyone would want to experience them a second time.
The narrator of this tale--a stowaway--survives a mutiny, a hurricane, a shipwreck, thirst, cannibalism, yellow fever, more storms, constant drenching on the deck of the disabled ship--a brig--the death of his friend, Augustus, sharks at deck level of the water-filled ship, its eventual capsizing, and the total loss of food and water until, at last, he and his friend, Peters, are rescued by a passing British ship, the Jane Guy. Pym and Peters join the ship's crew in their hunt for seals and sea elephants. When they are done, and after leaving the shores of the islands of the South Atlantic, the Jane Guy sails south to explore the ice fields of the Antarctic where the crew kills a huge polar bear and comes in contact with savages.
Despite the fantasy of warm seas, polar bears, and savages in the Antarctic, the natives are friendly at first, but they soon turn against the ship's crew. They ambush the sailors in a deep gorge where Pym and Peters are "buried alive," but they survive the landslide. The savages then attack the Jane Guy, killing the six men on board and destroying the ship. Back on the island they pursue Pym and Peters who manage to make their escape in a native canoe into the Antarctic Ocean. After nineteen days at sea, a sea that turns progressively hotter, the canoe is engulfed by a cataract and falls into a chasm. The imagery of Romanticism is full-blown.
Despite the improbability of survival, both Pym and Peters make their way back to the United States where Pym meets Mr. Poe. Poe persuades him to narrate his adventures--adventures that Pym characterizes as "positively marvelous" (Pym 150), despite their horrific nature. Subsequently, he narrates and, in fact, reproduces them. We can understand why Breton called Poe a Surrealist in adventure, and we see now why Poe's exotic descriptions of the South Pole are a direct link to his Romantic predecessors and their own taste for exotic locales.
As a title, Not to Be Reproduced may, therefore, be ironic or, Magritte, Pym's assertions notwithstanding, may be recoiling from them. I leave it to the reader to decide if, in real life, he or she would want to relive Pym's ordeals. In any case, there is a second explanation for Magritte's title elicited by the placement of Poe's book on the mantelpiece. When the savages first board the Jane Guy as friendly visitors, Too-wit, the chief, enters the captain's cabin where two large mirrors are placed on opposite walls. Pym says that
Too-wit was the first to approach them, and he had got in the middle of the cabin, with his face to one and his back to the other, before he fairly perceived them. Upon raising his eyes and seeing his reflected self in the glass, I thought the savage would go mad, but upon turning short round to make a retreat and beholding himself a second time in the opposite direction, I was afraid he would expire upon the spot. No persuasion could prevail upon him to take another look; but throwing himself upon the floor, with his face buried in his hands, he remained thus until we were obliged to drag him upon deck. (Pym 290)
Seeing his face in one mirror and then the other is, for Too-wit, an experience of total fright. Seeing himself reflected twice is so terrifying that he buries his face in his hands. How does an artist reproduce terror? Magritte's solution to such fright is to suppress the frontal view and mirror only the back.
The man in Not to Be Reproduced was painted from a photograph of Edward James, who is alleged to have said that an observer looks into the mirror and his gaze is not returned. Magritte adds that "what counts is precisely this moment of panic, and not its explanation" (qtd. in Paquet, 15). But the moment of panic that Too-wit registers is exactly the opposite. He does see his face in the mirror, and the panic he experiences must derive from seeing himself in the mirror, twice, a displacement beyond explanation because he does not know what a mirror is. Magritte's comment addresses this moment of terror without actually depicting it. How do you paint panic?
Also, Sylvester tells us that Jonathan Miller published an essay on the human lace in 1966 entitled "On the face of it," and opposite a full-page reproduction of Not to Be Reproduced he wrote: "Our face is where we are" and "a person who is all back and no front is not really a person at all" (qtd. in Sylvester, 246). Civilized fright would thus derive from a loss of self because we are familiar with mirrors and their reflecting surfaces, whereas savage fright would stem from being in three places, simultaneously: two mirrors and the self in between.
Magritte's title may say "do not reproduce," but he has, in fact, reproduced the unreproducible, that is, panic. What do we make of such an anomaly? Insofar as his goal, generally, is to destabilize mimesis and challenge established laws of nature, we should perhaps not be surprised that his mirror reflects the back of the man's head instead of his face. Once again, Magritte has exercised poetic license by mirroring that which his title says should not be seen. He has painted a magic mirror--like so many of his mirrors--capable of doing the impossible, and the impossible is the hallmark of his art. The impossible is the mystery that he constantly strives to communicate. Pym's maritime adventures, survival, and encounter with improbable savages in the Antarctic are beyond credulity and belong to the realm of fantasy, not reality, which explains Magritte's admiration for this tale and Poe's work in general.
A third explanation for the title--one that subsumes the others and is by far the most plausible--although it does not exclude the others--is Magritte's belief that the purpose of his art is not to represent the world but, rather, to reveal its other side--a reality that is unseen and which we sometimes only apprehend. This is perhaps the reality that Poe shaped into horror and terror, and that Baudelaire's Platonic ideal sometimes unveiled. Magritte's art lifts the veil of perception so that we can see what is hidden, or he veils so that the obvious becomes mysterious. Why, for example, are the heads of the kissing couple in The Lovers [Les Amants] (1928) covered? Because the cloth covering each head is what Magritte calls "the visible and apparent hiding the visible that is hidden," rdu visible apparent qui cache du visible cache] (EC 599), that is, what we see hides what we don't see, namely the couple's faces. The veiling generates tension in the observer's mind because he or she wants to see what he or she cannot see. This also induces in the observer a poetic state of mind because familiar objects (woman and stone) united in a certain unfamiliar order, as in The Flowers of Evil, produce the desired poetry. Magritte calls such inspired juxtapositions "unions bizarres" (EC 599). They are indeed strange, and that, in addition to painting visible thought, is what Magritte is aiming for (EC 506).
Like the invisible faces of the lovers, the face of the man in Not to Be Reproduced is also not visible. Why? That is because there is nothing interesting about a man who sees his face in the mirror, whereas a mirror that shifts reality in order to reveal the man's backside piques our curiosity and raises many questions. And when Magritte links this event to Poe's story, the mystery deepens. If Magritte paints the mystery behind reality, then showing us the man's hindside--not his face--becomes a statement about art.
The Treachery of Images (figure 5) says "this is not a pipe," ["Ceci nest pas une pipe",] and Not to Be Reproduced says, in essence, "this is not reality," or "this is an alternate reality." The corollary then becomes "this is art," or "this is a Magritte' Nonetheless, the question remains: why should reality not be reproduced? The fact is, it is reproduced all the time. We see our faces in the mirror, we take pictures of people at home and elsewhere, and many would-be artists paint sunsets and landscapes. None of this is interesting, and it says nothing about our perception of the world that is not ordinary, whereas Magritte's art challenges that perception, defamiliarizes it and, by doing so, deepens our understanding of ourselves and the world.
Poe, Baudelaire, and Magritte are indeed kindred spirits, and their shared affinities, firmly rooted in Romanticism, as we have seen, branch out through Symbolism (Rimbaud's alchemy of the word) and the alchemy of images in order to flower as Surrealism. Rousseau's reveries, Poe's tales of mystery and terror, and Baudelaire's poems of "evil" and ennui became Magritte's Flowers of the Abyss [Les Fleurs de l'abime] (1928, figure 8)--flowers whose organic and inorganic properties defy reality.
Even more than Baudelaire's "correspondences," what attracted the interest of the Symbolists, and Magritte after them, was the presence of "the abyss" in Baudelaire's works and in Poe's--the downward thrust of their creative selves toward realms where space and time are projections of an inner landscape ruled by the imagination, not by reason. In this inner reality, images are the syntax of all meaning. Magritte's Flowers of the Abyss affirmed the supremacy of this new language, and they would have shocked Boileau's decorous Classical sensibilities.
Magritte transmuted the legacy of nineteenth-century art, even as his fascination with objects devalued his predecessors' ideal of Beauty in order to elicit surprise, wonder, and astonishment. He transformed Poe's and Baudelaire's rhetoric of realism into a subversion of realism. Instead of painting landscapes, his paintings became the landscape of painting. Nonetheless, in borrowing literary titles for his own pictures, Magritte established a dialogue between his visible images and their written words. His painting, The Flowers of Evil, is in dialogue with Baudelaire's book of poems, The Flowers of Evil, and Magritte's The Domain of Arnheirn is in dialogue with Poe's story, "The Domain of Arnheim." These two paintings, and many others like them, are part of the ongoing interarts exchange--an ekphrasis--between visible texts and written texts in which people and objects, as connotators, establish symbolic links that resonate between the paintings themselves and the written texts. This essay has examined these interrelationships by tracking their origins, the artists' shared interests and differences, and the Surrealists' desire to change the world by transcending all contradiction: life and death, the real and the unreal, the conscious and the unconscious. Breton wanted this Surreality to be the bridge to the new millennium; Magritte has painted it into existence.
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(1.). Magritte paid tribute to both Rousseau and Hugo by painting The Musings of a Solitary Walker [Les Reveries du promeneur solitaire) (1926), using Rousseau's title, and The Legend of the Centuries [La Legende des siecles) (1952), using Hugo's.
(2.) A partial listing of paintings whose titles Magritte borrowed from literature would include the following: Scheherazade, Dangerous Liaisons (Laclos), Philosophy in the Boudoir (Sade), Indiscreet Jewels (Diderot), Elective Affinities (Goethe), The Fall of the House of Usher (Poe), The Imp of the Perverse (Poe), Alice in Wonderland (Carroll), Treasure Island (Stevenson), Memory of a Journey (Gobineau), The Tomb of the Wrestlers (Cladel), Almayer's Folly (Conrad), The Glass Key (Hammett).
(3.) The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym is, arguably, Magritte's favorite tale, and he incorporated the book and its title into the painting Not to be Reproduced [La Reproduction interdite] (1937, figure 9).
(4.) Magritte borrowed The Glass Key from the title of Dashiell Hammett's novel, another whodunit that he admired greatly.
(5.) For an excellent and detailed study of Magritte's subversive tendencies in art see Allmer.
(6.) In Les Mots dans la peinture, Michel Butor says that Baudelaire's poem, "La Beaute," was the source of inspiration for another Magritte painting, The Art of Conversation [L'Art de la conversation) (1950, figure 1).
(7.) David Sylvester notes that, in addition to Edouard Manet, Magritte's painting also evokes Henri Matisse. In the catalogue list that Magritte sent Irene Hamour for typing, he annotated the title as: "the title of the poem by Baudelaire with the pink and black jewel", "titre du poeme de Baudelaire avec le bijou rose et noir" (Catalogue raisonne, vol.2, 411).
(8.) See Jean Roudaut's essay, "A Grand Illusion," for some interesting comments on The Giantess. Roudaut fails to mention, however, that the marginal poem in the painting is not Magritte's, but Paul Nouges.
(9.) Here is Paul Nouges adaptation of Baudelairc's "La Geante," as quoted and translated by David Sylvester in the Catalogue raisonne, vol. 2, 175:
Alors qu'un monde bas mais de grace prenante Berce de ses couleurs respoir vain de vos yeux Au milieu de ma vie se meut une geante Meprisante, masquee, et negligeant vos dieux Son grand corps pour moi seul abandonne se pame Et fibre se deploie en de terribles jeux S'apaise pour renaitre en une sombre flamme Dechirant les brouillards qui nagent dans scs yeux Parcourant pour toujours ses magnifiques formes J'ai rampe an versant de ses genoux enormes Et parfois en ete, si les soleils malsains, Lasse, la font s'etendre au travers de mes songes Je m'endors tendrement a l'ombre de ses seins Sans reve que celui oil son reve me plonge. [Whereas a world, base but of alluring grace Lulls with its hues the vain hope of your eyes In the centre of my life there moves a giantess Contemptuous. masked, and disregarding your gods Her great body abandoned to mc alone SWOONS And disports itself freely in awesome games Is appeased only to he reborn in a dark flame Tearing the mists which float in her eyes Forever exploring her magnificent curves I have crawled on the slopes of her enormous knees And sometimes, in summer, if unhealthy suns Cause her to stretch out wearily across my dreams I fall asleep tenderly in the shade of her breasts With no other dream than that into which her dream plunges me.]
(10.) Lecture given by Rene Magritte, November 20, 1938, at the Musee Royal des Beaux-Arts, Antwerp. Reprinted in Torczyner, 118-25.
(11.) See Marcel Paquet who believes that Poe "exercised the most powerful and lasting influence upon Magritte's thinking and on his work as a whole" (Paquet 39). Harry Torczyner notes that Magritte once told him that his birthday, November 21, 1898, fell under the sign of Scorpio, the same sign as Poe's (Torczyner 6). Poe (1809-1849) was born on January 19'h, and he was not three years old when his mother, a young actress, died. Magritte's mother drowned in the Sambre river in Chatelet, Belgium, when he was 14. Torczyner also notes that in December, 1965, when Magritte was in New York for the opening of his exhibition at MoMA, he accompanied Rene and Georgette to the Bronx to visit Poe's former residence. When Magritte emerged from the tiny bedroom, he was in tears (Torczyner 8). Magritte died in 1967. Poe cultivated the literature of mystery, and mystery for Magritte, is the keystone of his art. Like Poe, he shaped plausible scenarios from improbable relationships. Magritte also echoes Baudelaire's admiration for Poe, and Magritte himself, because he loved thrillers, tried his hand at writing detective stories.
(12.) See also The Forerunner [Le Precurseurl (1936) which depicts a bird's head, wings for the mountain range, rocks in the foreground, and clouds in the sky, but no eggs. The Call of the Peaks [L'Appel des clmes1 (1943) is similar to the 1962 version of The Domain of Arnhem and The Human Condition [La Condition humaine] (1933). The eagle-mountain landscape appears as a transparent painting on an easel framed by a red curtain on the right and a window sill in the foreground. The Spot on the Map [Le Lieudid (1955), depicts a night-time image of the eagle and its wings. In the foreground, in lieu of eggs, Magritte has painted a bonfire. In The Domain of Arnheim of 1958, the bird's head and beak are facing left, not right, and there are two eggs placed on a window ledge, not three in a nest.
PROFESSOR EMERITUS, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-RIVERSIDE
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|Date:||Sep 22, 2012|
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