Belgian Surrealist René Magritte (1898-1967) might be more than a little at fault for derailing my law career some twenty years ago; I went from aspiring litigator to art history nerd in the span of about fifteen minutes, though it took me a few more years to figure that one out…
Shortly before I spent a term abroad in London my senior year of college, I read an intriguing but short-sighted article about Magritte’s work in the context of his mother’s suicide by drowning. The whole idea of this tragedy from his childhood sort of lodged itself in my own imagination, and a few years later I wrote about it extensively for my Master’s thesis at the University of South Carolina.
One of these days I’ll scan it and post it…for now, a few excerpts, in anticipation of the new US exhibition of Magritte’s early works(1926-38) opening in New York at MoMA this September:
The art of René Magritte has long been a popular source of critical intrigue. The man in the bowler
hat boldly arrests our attention through shocking images and mysterious juxtapositions of familiar objects that disrupt the ordinary perspective through which we observe life. For Magritte, mystery necessitated strangeness, and he resolutely sought to evoke mystery through his images…
The genesis of the mystery of Magritte arose from events that occurred in the early years of his life…the death of his mother. In early 1912, when Magritte was fourteen years of age, his mother committed suicide by flinging herself into the Sambre River.
Consequently, Magritte never discussed this event with anyone, except one account he gave to his close friend, Louis Scutenaire. In refraining from speaking of this tragic loss, Magritte clearly stated his case; he did not wish anyone to intrude upon the privacy he so adamantly demanded throughout his life. He became, in essence, what he painted: a Mystery. But a look at his work, particularly the early works of his career, will prove that Magritte did indeed speak of his mother’s suicide, at least through his art.
…I believe that Magritte, though undoubtedly emotionally and psychologically traumatized by this event, eventually recovered from the tragedy and rehabilitated himself through his art. I propose a new critical view of Magritte, one which will hopefully allow for a better understanding of the effects of his childhood on his life and work. In the process, I also hope to demonstrate that Magritte continued to find his Muse in these events, specifically, in his mother’s death, even in his later years, but that what had been emotionally problematic in the 1910’s and 1920’s had become by the 1930’s a source for philosophical conjecture.
To read my thesis (Magritte and His Mother’s Suicide: A Psychoanalytic Study of a Rational Rehabilitation), well, you’ll have to wait until I find time to scan it…and I have this other book project to finish…so it may be a while.