The Lover's Twisted Tale: Rene Magritte
Art has been a part of the human experience for thousands of years. An artist creates for many reasons but there is always a meaning for it. That meaning varies upon the individual viewing it. Life experiences and mentality all have an impact of the subjective interpretation of a piece of art. I had the chance to view a very interesting painting by Rene Magritte entitled The Lovers. At first I thought it was strange but then after studying it for a time the painting became more fascinating. The bold colors, veiled faces and position of the elements in the painting all inspired wonder and curiosity.
Rene Magritte’s painting, The Lovers (1928), is an oil on canvas depicting two individuals locked in an embrace. The figures are kissing one another through veils. They are situated in a room with the back wall, side wall and ceiling showing. The back wall is blue-grey with a lighter shade on the bottom half and a darker shade on the top half. The side wall is brick red with it lighter at the bottom blending to a darker shade through to the top. The ceiling is white and has a decorative trim along the border of the red wall, but it does not continue along the border of the blue-grey wall. The male figure wears a black suit and tie with a solid white shirt. He embraces a woman clad in a red, sleeveless garment with white trim. The woman’s tanned arm is exposed. The man is in a dominant position relative to the woman. She tilts her head up while he leans down to kiss. Both figures have a whitishveil completely covering their faces and necks. On both figures the veils are tight against the front of the face and top of the head and then relax towards the back. The woman’s face is tilted slightly to the left making her lover more prominent and revealing the distinct outline of his nose.
The title of the painting implies that the two people depicted are lovers. The shading of the walls appears to come from a light source that emerges from the floor or lower portion of the space and angles up towards the middle of the room. The light allows for contrast and shading of all the elements in the painting. The painting consists of bold and saturated colors.
When viewing the painting the first thing that stuck out was the colors. They are all solid and bold colors that add to the context of the painting. The walls are a very specific color. The only way to know that the ceiling is in fact a ceiling is the trim along the red wall. The background is overtaken by the rear blue wall yet it is the way these walls are lit that adds to a sense of gloom and even dread. The significance of the red, white and blue walls may have something to do with the time Magritte spent in Paris. (Art Directory) The male figure is in a solid black suit and tie and with the whitish veils the painting comes together with a sense that there is something dark about it aside from the obvious.
The most prominent feature of the painting is the veils. They are also the most intriguing aspect of it. What about this couple needs to be hidden is what I asked myself. However the only part of them that is hidden is their faces. At first I thought that maybe they were an interracial couple since we can only see a small part of the woman’s arm and nothing of the man’s skin color. Another possibility that came to mind was that they may have had some sort of disease or contagion and they only way they were able to show their affection to each other is to kiss through a veil. Then something stood out to me with the way the veils were situated on each of them. The veil of the man is wrapped from the front of him around to the back. At first the veil of the woman seems to only be draped over her but then I noticed the contours of the veil and how they appear to wrap to the back. Perhaps the veils are actually connected and are one piece of cloth. This added to the importance of the veils and the connectedness of the two individuals. Another more sinister aspect of the veils came to light as well. When looking at the veil on the woman the way the folds are formed outline what appears to be a hand with claws. As if the man were reaching inside of the veil and holding onto the back of her head.
The elements that make up this painting are the room and the lovers. The way the room is painted makes it seem almost insignificant. The bold colors are shadowed and there are no windows to give perspective. However it is unusual to see a room with such a variety of colored walls. The lovers are the primary object and the one that adds the most mystery and intrigue. The way they are both positioned is suggestive. The man is in a dominant position with his shoulders angled. The woman appears to be tilting her hear up towards him but after looking at the position of her body as well it appears more like she is leaning backwards. The most significant aspect of the lovers is the veils. It is actually a rather bland painting however by simply covering the faces with veils it becomes far more interesting and thought provoking. The psychological impact however is far greater with all of these elements. The color blue is associated with calm or water which is associated with life. The color red is associated with anger, lust and love while white is associated with purity which also happens to be the least shown. Black is commonly associated with death which the man may be representative of. The woman is dressed in red which may mean love or passion. The veils are of a whitish or grayish color and depending upon how you see it could mean purity or could mean the purity is fading or tainted. Trying to put all of these elements together to form a single meaning is rather difficult. It is the culmination of elements that are supposed to impact the viewer.
By taking the psychological physical aspects of the painting I can derive the meaning that death and love are always connected but will always be separated by a veil of innocence. Yet since the man in the painting is in a dominant position and the woman leaning back another interpretation might be love succumbs to death and the veils allow for the viewer to attribute any face to the figures. Another aspect of the painting that may contribute to its meaning could stem from the positions of the figures and the colors of the walls. The man represents death and stands next to the red wall representing love and in front of the blue wall representing water or life. The woman represents love and stands in front of the wall representing the water or life as well. From this I can see a meaning of life, love and death are always connected. The possibilities of meanings are enormous however all are subjective.
It is amazing how a seemingly simple painting can arouse the most complex meanings. The meanings of this painting can stem from first glance, strictly surface based, and even hidden psychological meanings. The viewer can be impacted by it or not. Art is purely subjective and so too are the interpretations. It seems that all who see this painting are interested in the veils covering the faces of the main figures. For this reason Magritte was ingenious. The fact that all people kiss and the two in his painting seem to be unable to physically meet in such an intimate way strikes people. Art is supposed to be inspirational, controversial, provocative and everything in between. Rene Magritte’s The Lovers is one such painting that intrigues and provokes thought.
Art Directory. 18 October 2010. <http://www.rene--magritte.com/>.