L’Empire de la Réflexion

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L’Empire de la Réflexion
Circa 1942
Oil on canvas
Object: 19 3/4 x 28 3/4 in.
Signed Magritte upper right; signed Magritte and titled on the reverse

Provenance

Galerie Lou Cosyn, Brussels
Private Collection, Belgium (acquired from the above in 1959)
Private Collection (acquired in the early 1960s and thence by descent)
Estate of Harry B. Henshel


Publications

David Sylvester & Sarah Whitfield, René Magritte. Catalogue raisonné, London, 1993,
vol. II, no. 510, illustrated p. 302

In my pictures I show objects in situations in which we never encounter them. This fulfils a real, but perhaps unconscious desire felt by most men. Even a banal painter tries, within the limits imposed upon him, to disrupt the order in which he habitually sees objects. He will allow himself timid audacities and vague hints. Given my intention to make the most everyday objects shriek aloud, they had to be arranged in a new order and take on a disturbing significance.”[1]

René Magritte

At first glance, L’Empire de la Réflexion seems like a tranquil landscape, with a full moon rising in a cloudless blue sky above the sea shore. Taking a closer look, we’ll notice that we are not looking at the moon, but instead at another heavenly body: planet Earth. By displacing the familiar into unfamiliar territory, Magritte achieves a disquieting but poetic effect. The neutrality and almost photorealistic precision in which the scene is rendered only emphasizes its oddity.

Painted during WW2, while the world was facing unprecedented brutality, death and destruction, Magritte presents the viewer with the possibility of being removed from the planet, looking at it from a far (and safe) distance. In the picture, he makes the earth appear peaceful and small, as if he wants to point out: Take a look! She is all we have!

The present painting is one of several compositions of the same subject and title by Magritte. An earlier version, dated 1938 (Sylvester 462), was originally entitled L’Empire des Mirroirs (The Dominion of Mirrors), and while showing it at the Hugo Gallery in New York in 1948, Magritte explained: “in the sky a large mirror sends back to us the image of the earth”. In this version the earth is shown rising above the sea.

Two gouaches, dated 1947 and 1948 (Sylvester 1246 and 1255), both most likely produced for his American dealer Alexander Iolas, depict the planet above an endless plain, dotted with several houses.

Magritte usually preferred not to elaborate the meaning of his pictures, but leave its interpretation up to the viewer. Asked about L’Empire de la Réflexion by a former owner, he replied: “I can answer you by saying that I consider essential that which is given through inspiration: for example, the thought of a nocturnal landscape under a starlit sky. I have very little imagination; my painting owes nothing to imagination. Imagination only concerns the imaginary, which is to say the arbitrary, more or less paradoxical. I think unhesitatingly, that in order to paint in the way that I conceive painting, inspiration is necessary. In order to talk about what I paint, inspiration is also necessary, if one wishes really to talk about it.”[2]


[1] René Magritte, 1938, on how he freed his imagination, cited in: The Grove Book of Art Writing, Martin Gayford    and Karen Wright, New York: Grove Press 2006, p.452.
[2] Cited in: Impressionist and Modern Art,  Sotheby’s New York, 3 Nov 2008, lot 66
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