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Painting Of The Week – René Magritte, The Treachery of Images

20th century

Painting Of The Week – René Magritte, The Treachery of Images

As you can see, this painting shows a pipe. Underneath it there is a French sentence explaining, that “This is not a pipe”.

You may ask – what the hell is going on here?

René Magritte, The Treachery of Images , 1929, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

René Magritte, The Treachery of Images , 1929, Los Angeles County Museum of Art


René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist painter created The Treachery of Images when he was 30 years old.  Magritte loved word games. He was also determined to prove that the painting and poetry were on an equal footing despite the Surrealists’ constant flaunting on the pre-eminence of the written word. Magritte caches the gap between the language and the meaning. His statement is taken to mean that the painting itself is not a pipe; it is merely an image of a pipe. 

Magritte explained it: “It’s quite simple. Who would dare pretend that the REPRESENTATION of a pipe IS a pipe? Who could possibly smoke the pipe in my painting? No one. Therefore it IS NOT A PIPE.”


The painting is sometimes given as an example of meta message. “The word is not the thing” and “The map is not the territory”. Magritte likely borrowed the pipe motif from Le Corbusier’s book ‘Vers une architecture’ (1923), since he was admirer of the architect and painter, but he may also have been inspired by a comical sign he knew in an art gallery, which read, “Ceci n’est pas de l’Art.” The painting is the subject of a famous book-length analysis by Michel Foucault.

Surrealism was heavily influenced by Freudian psychology. It represented a reaction against the “Rationalism” that some believed led Europe into the horrors of World War I. It attempted to join the realm of dreams and fantasy to the everyday world. The Treachery of Images, now in the collection of Los Angeles County Museum  of Art became an icon of modern art and it influenced a big group of a younger generation of conceptually oriented artists, including Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Edward Ruscha, and Andy Warhol.

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Art Historian, founder and CEO of DailyArtMagazine.com and DailyArt mobile app. But to be honest, her greatest accomplishment is being the owner of Pimpek the Cat.

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