Magritte, Day and Night

Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian surrealist artist playing with preconceived perceptions of reality. He depicted different pictorial motifs, organizing a gap between an object and its representation. His works often present two graphic interpretations, by painting the visible and the invisible, a duality that makes all the richness of his work. According to the artist, the visible reality must be approached in an objectal way, in that sense his work tried to be the representation of mental images.

L'empire des lumières

This duality was partly explored when he put the day into perspective with the night in his works. In his series of paintings L’Empire des lumières (The Empire of Lights) principaly painted in 1953-54, the binary nature of a 24 hours day is strained. He painted a house illuminated by a street lamp at night, under a daytime sky. This contrast of light and time creates a paradoxical image. Magritte said that the power of this simultaneity of day and night, this mixture of lights, creates real poetry. For this series he was inspired by the paintings of John Atkinson Grimshaw and his misty atmospheres, where day merges with night. 

L'Empire des Lumières - Magritte Day Night Empire of Lights
L'Empire des Lumières - Magritte
Le Banquet

In Le Banquet (The Banquet) painted in 1958, Magritte shows the visible and the invisible simultaneously. In the foreground there is a stone wall and an antique vase of the same material. Behind this wall there is a group of trees, then a wide plain which ends with another group of tree. In the centre of the painting, in front of the first trees, shines a red sun. The warm colour of the sky and the sun indicates that the day is setting. The sun, which should be at the level of the horizon, invisible behind the last trees, is however in the foreground, in the centre, in front of the trees. The invisible is visible.

Le Banquet - Magritte Day Night The Banquet
Le Banquet - Magritte
Le Seize Septembre

Le Banquet echoes another of the artist’s paintings, Le Seize Septembre (The Sixteenth of September) painted two years ago, in 1956. Magritte once again depicts a binary relationship in his work. This painting represents an isolated tree in the middle of a plain, closed off at the bottom by high trees. In front of this principal tall tree, in the middle of the scene, hangs a crescent moon. The clear colour of the sky indicates that day is breaking. Once again, Magritte paints a switch between day and night. A luminous and temporal paradox that transforms visible reality by letting the invisible see.

Le Seize Septembre - Magritte Day Night 16th September
Le Seize Septembre - Magritte

Le Banquet and Le Seize Septembre are inspired by a painting by William Degouve de Nuncques, a Belgian artist. Indeed, he painted Nocturne au Parc Royal de Bruxelles (Nocturns in the Parc Royal, Brussels) at the end of the previous century in 1897. The painting visible here shows a rectilinearly organized park at night, where in the middle of the foliage of the trees appear round light sources of colour and lunar brightness.


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