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Le miroir vivant

Le miroir vivant

René Magritte (in 1928)

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‘Le miroir vivant’ is an enigmatic work. Words are written in four cloudlike white shapes. Seeing the word ‘horizon’, it is almost impossible not to visualize an image of a horizon. Our tendency to imagine compels us. And then there is an natural urge to link the words together. Are they an outline for a script - an idea for a story?

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Collection book

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Title Le miroir vivant
Material and technique Oil on canvas
Object type
Painting > Painting > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is travelling
Dimensions Height 54.4 cm
Width 73 cm
Depth 1.8 cm
Artists Kunstenaar: René Magritte
Accession number 3825 (MK)
Credits Aankoop met steun van / Purchase with the support of: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Vereniging Rembrandt (mede dankzij haar Dura Kunstfonds), Mondriaan Fonds, Stichting Fonds Willem van Rede, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds (mede dankzij haar Breeman Talle Fonds), BankGiro Loterij en diverse particulieren 2015 Purchase with the support of: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation, the Rembrandt Association (including its Dura art fund and its dedicated sculpture fund), the Mondriaan Fund, the VSBfonds, Stichting Fonds Willem van Rede, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds (including its Breeman Talle Fund), the BankGiro Lottery and private individuals 2015
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 2015
Age artist About 30 years old
Collector Collector / W. van Rede
Exhibitions De collectie als tijdmachine (2017)
Collectie - surrealisme (2017)
External exhibitions Als kunst je lief is (2018)

Please note: The metadata of this object have not been checked.
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Author: Marijke Peyser

In September 1927 the Belgian artist René Magritte and his wife Georgette moved to Paris. The French capital, where André Breton’s Surrealism reigned supreme, offered Magritte potential new opportunities to make his work widely known. His first solo exhibition Exposition Magritte, which ran from 23 April to 5 May of that year in Galerie Le Centaure in Brussels, had been panned by the critics.[1] The couple went to live in Le Pereux-sur-Marne, a dreary suburb to the east of Paris. Although Breton, Louis Aragon and Paul Éluard were interested in Magritte’s paintings and began to buy them for their art collections, the Belgian is not mentioned in Breton’s trail-blazing book Le surréalisme et la peinture (1928) nor in the Second Surrealist Manifesto, which was published in 1929. His contacts with the Parisian galleries left a lot to be desired.[2] Despite these difficult personal and professional circumstances, Magritte’s Parisian period, September 1927 to July 1930, was a productive and innovative phase in his life.

In October 1927 Magritte made his first ‘word painting’, La clef des songes, in which the relationship between text and image plays the major role.[3] In four painted frames images are presented with a label: a handbag is labelled ‘Le ciel’ (the sky), a penknife is combined with the word ‘L’oiseau’ (the bird), a leaf has the addition of ‘La table’ (the table). The sponge is labelled ‘L’éponge’ (the sponge): the only time that the painted object is named in a conventional, correct way. To Magritte, our use of language was subordinated to conventions. Breaking these conventions has an alienating effect. Logical connections no longer exist. The mind is set free: the highest objective of the Surrealist movement is achieved. In a subsequent stage of the ‘word paintings’, his painted objects or things from nature no longer feature. Le miroir vivant belongs in this category. The work revolves around just four words or phrases, each placed inside a white cloud against a black background, which are connected to each other by a thin line: ‘personnage éclatant de rire’ (person roaring with laughter), ‘horizon’, ‘armoire’ (cupboard) and ‘cris d’oiseaux’ (birds’ cries). The letters are ‘written’ in paint, in calligraphy. This painted reproduction of words evokes images for the viewer without seeing them on the canvas. The ‘word paintings’ disrupt accepted conventions of language and make it possible to unlock new meanings.

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen succeeded in buying Le miroir vivant in 2015. The museum had been trying to acquire an early word painting by Magritte for a long time. The attempt to acquire this specific painting by Magritte was captured in the documentary Conducting Boijmans by Sonia Herman Dolz in 2015. When he initially heard that the work was not coming on to the market, director Sjarel Ex said, ‘A collector has around thirty-five years, but we can wait five generations for a painting.’ Le miroir vivant is a major acquisition because it is illustrative of the research Magritte was engaged in in Paris in 1927-30. It is a welcome addition to the, for the most part, later works with which Magritte is represented in the museum’s Surrealism collection.



[1] New York/ Houston/Chicago 2013-14, p. 71.

[2] Ibid.

[3] In November 1938 Magritte gave a lecture in the Royal Museum for Fine Arts, Antwerp. In this lecture, ‘La Ligne de vie’, the artist explained his artistic approach and ideas. See Sylvester 1994, pp. 16-22, for the English translation.

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All about the artist

René Magritte

Lessen 1898 - Schaarbeek 1967

René Magritte studied at the academy in Brussels. He began as pattern designer in a carpet factory and as painter by painting and designing advertising posters...

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