Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

René Magritte: Lovers in Separation

René Magritte, The Lovers II, 1928, Museum of Modern Art, New York Rene magritte Lovers rene magritte Love
René Magritte, The Lovers II (detail), 1928, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Love Story

René Magritte: Lovers in Separation

Now, while we are all being asked to practice social distancing, you have probably been bombarded with the paintings of lovers by René Magritte. Magritte’s surreal style is unmistakable, his wit is well-known but his depictions of love and lovers are quite disturbing. These beautiful (and haunting) images of René Magritte’s love are perfect for today’s reality but do you know what Magritte really wanted to express in them? Are Magritte’s Lovers a sign of our time?

René Magritte LoveRené Magritte LoversRené Magritte and Le Barbare, 1938. Private Collection. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
René Magritte and Le Barbare, 1938. Private Collection. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

There are four variations of The Lovers that Magritte painted in 1928. We recognize this kind of close–up kiss from the movies. But in the two most well-known versions of the paintings there is one mysterious element – the faces shrouded in cloth.


The Surrealists were highly interested in masks, disguises and what lies beneath the surface. The melodramatic scenes may also relate to the graphic illustrations that accompanied pulp fiction and thriller stories. Magritte was fascinated by Fantômas, the shadowy hero of a thriller series of novels and films whose identity remained secret because his face was hidden under a cloth or stocking.

But, there is another, much darker interpretation. When René Magritte was thirteen years old, his mother committed suicide and her body was found in the river Sambre, supposedly with her nightgown around her face. As he said, he never found out “whether she had covered her eyes with it so as not to see the death she had chosen, or whether she had been veiled in that way by the swirling currents”, but it must have been a traumatic event in Magritte’s life.


But, let’s move on to the paintings themselves.

René Magritte, The Lovers I (1928)

René Magritte LoveRené Magritte LoversRené Magritte, The Lovers I, 1928, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
René Magritte, The Lovers I, 1928, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

In The Lovers I, a man and a woman press their faces together in a fond gesture, almost as if they were posing for a family portrait. It could be a chilled-out, Instagram-like holiday snapshot, with a lovely forest and sea in the background. Only, there is a cloth that tugs back against their faces and curls back over their shoulders like ropes. Due to these elements, this spontaneous intimacy becomes a spectacle of alienation, suffocation, even death. The lovers are unable to truly communicate or touch. The cloth keeps the two figures forever apart.

René Magritte, The Lovers II (1928)

René Magritte, The Lovers II, 1928, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The second version of The Lovers is very similar, but more intimate and disturbing than its partner – in this version of the story, the man and woman, dressed identically as they were in the original, lean in for a loving embrace – a kiss. But their attempt is again impossible because of the cloths. Unlike the pastoral scene of the previous painting, a much more abstract background is given here.

Here we may have a window into hidden aspects of relationships that even the participants themselves are blind to. When the two individuals in the pieces embrace or kiss, they cannot see the other in a literal sense: both of their heads are fully covered by a (presumably) opaque hood. We always have trouble deciphering the true intentions, feelings, and secret fantasies of those we love. No matter how much you pose, no matter how much you actually love each other, no matter how picturesque the setting is, there is always a distance, no matter how intimate you are.

A Bonus: Lovers III and Lovers IV

René Magritte LoveRené Magritte LoversRené Magritte, The Lovers III, 1928, private collection
René Magritte, The Lovers III, 1928, private collection
René Magritte Lovers
René Magritte, The Lovers IV, 1928, private collection

The two other versions of the Lovers are much lesser known, because they are in private collections. Also, without the cloth they don’t seem to have such an impact on the viewer, but they are also very thought-provoking in their own right. We may presume that the couple in this painting is the same as in the first paintings. The woman is wearing the same dress and the angle of the man’s face is similar to how it was in The Lovers I. However, we can’t tell for sure whether or not it is the same man because his body is missing. What does it mean? That his head is with this woman but his body and therefore his heart is with another? Is it a scene of betrayal, or simply a scene depicting the impossibility of two human beings being together? Even though the lovers look more fulfilled, as they touch each other or kiss without any barriers could they be really close, without the man’s body?

René Magritte described his paintings saying, “My painting is visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, ‘What does that mean?’ It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing, it is unknowable.”


So, as is very often the case with art, the masterpieces tend to show us whatever we would like to see in them.

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.

Comments

More in Love Story

  • Artist

    Lise Tréhot. The Mysterious Beauty from Renoir’s Paintings

    By

    Born into a humble French family, Lise Tréhot (1848–1922) was an artist’s model who posed exclusively for Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919). Lise posed for almost all of the female figures depicted by Renoir from 1866 until 1872. Incidentally, it was Clémence Tréhot, Lise’s older sister and lover...

  • Artists' Stories

    5 Impressionist Gossips Which Will Make You Feel They Staged a Soap Opera

    By

    I know, it is a bit rude to discuss private lives of people. But when it comes to the Impressionists, knowing their relationships, connections, sudden twists of fate, and often difficult characters makes the whole story about them much more interesting. And we can see them...

  • Marina Abramović and Ulay, Relation in time, photographed in 1977. Marina Abramović and Ulay, Relation in time, photographed in 1977.

    21st century

    The Artists are Present – Marina and Ulay

    By

    Balkan performing artist Marina Abramovic was born in 1946 in Belgrade, Serbia. Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen) was born on the same day as her, a few years earlier, in another place, Solingen, Germany. They met for the first time in 1975 in Amsterdam, on the day...

  • dailyart

    The Temptress and the Slave in Art: Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife

    By

    The Old Testament story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife has served as a great source of inspiration for artists over the centuries. This vivid composition conveys the despair and madness of Joseph’s dramatic flight from the clutches of his master’s wife. The story, however, has a...

  • John Singer Sargent's oil painting of his muse, Rosina Ferrara. John Singer Sargent's oil painting of his muse, Rosina Ferrara.

    Artist

    A Capri Romance: John Singer Sargent and Rosina Fererra

    By

    Summer is on the horizon and most of us, having been cooped up at home for some months now, are dreaming of the holidays. Long walks along beaches, toes in the sand, the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. Perhaps even a summer romance....

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy