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2 / Dreams and Visions

The False Mirror
The False Mirror
Artist / Origin René Magritte (Belgian, 1898–1967)
Region: Europe
Date 1928
Material Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 21 ¼ in. (54 cm.), W: 31 7/8 in. (80.5 cm.)
Location The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Credit © 2009 C. Herscovici, London/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Digital Image

expert perspective

Mary Ann CawsProfessor of English, French, and Comparative Literature, Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Additional Resources

Allmer, Patricia, and Hilde Van Gelder. Collective Inventions: Surrealism in Belgium. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2007.

Barron, Stephanie, Michel Draguet, and Dickran Tashjian. Magritte and Contemporary Art. Antwerp: Ludion in association with Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2006.

Caws, Mary Ann. Surrealism. London: Phaidon, 2004.

Garrels, Gary. Magritte. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000.

Gohr, Siegfried, and Rene Magritte. Magritte: Attempting the Impossible. New York D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2009.

Paquet, Marcel. Rene Magritte 1898–1967: Thoughts Rendered Visible, rev. ed. Cologne: Taschen, 2000.

The False Mirror

» René Magritte (Belgian, 1898–1967)

In Magritte’s painting, The False Mirror, a huge human eye completely covers the canvas.

The image jolts the viewer by removing the eye from its usual context, presenting it without the face to which it belongs. It further disrupts expectation by placing a circular sky inside the otherwise ordinary oculus. Sometimes called “magical realism,” such juxtaposition of normally unrelated objects within a seemingly incongruous context is characteristic of much of Magritte’s oeuvre. For Magritte and Surrealists working in a similar mode, these surprising, even bizarre combinations were considered the products of their unconscious minds. By visualizing them, the artists believed, they might also touch the unconscious minds of their viewers.

Many of Magritte’s Surrealist colleagues, including Man Ray, Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst, made use of eyes as a motif in their art. In their works, as in Magritte’s, eyes undermine our basic assumptions—they are recontextualized, multiplied, and assaulted; on occasion, they cry glass tears. The Surrealists meant these kinds of images to make viewers uneasy, to unsettle complacent attitudes about art and life. By replacing the eye’s iris with a blue, cloud-filled sky in False Mirror, Magritte challenges us to question what we see and what we think we know. Is the sky a reflection of what the eye is seeing? Is the eye in fact an opening into another reality? Are we looking at an inner vision, or something else entirely? One thing is certain: Magritte’s False Mirror is an invitation to look at the world differently.

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