Identity and Death in René Magritte’s “The Lovers”

René Magritte’s iconic surrealist painting “The Lovers” (1928) is as captivating as it is enigmatic. It presents a seemingly ordinary scene of a couple locked in embrace. Gustav Klimt, Constantin Brancusi, and Auguste Rodin have all experimented with this ubiquitous subject. However, one unusual detail in Magritte’s rendition challenges our expectations 一 both of their faces are concealed with veils. What could the artist possibly be trying to tell us with this bizarre image? Magritte often invoked a sense of mystery in his work with well-known examples being The Son of Man (1964) and The Treachery of Images (1929). His paintings can be thought of like dreams, perplexing visions plucked from the subconscious, ripe for decoding.

The couple’s pose is undoubtedly cinematic in its grandiose romanticism. One can almost hear the swelling orchestral soundtrack. However, the viewer is not privy to their identities and the lovers are not privy to each other. The climactic kiss is not granted and the viewer may be left feeling unsatisfied. Perhaps the veils could alluding to the blindness of love or the frustration of never truly knowing our partners. Another interpretation could be that the shrouds are acting as a form of censorship, representing the modesty and chastity symbolized through bridal veils.

Enshrouded faces are a common motif in Magritte’s art. One possible reason for this could be his mother’s suicide. The artist was 14 years-old when she drowned herself in a nearby river (“René Magritte Biography”). The young Magritte was present as police fished his mother’s body out of the water, her wet nightgown wrapped around her face. Undoubtedly, this image would have left an indelible mark on Magritte’s mind. He could be could be playing with the idea of seeking identity through romantic and familial love and raging against the loneliness and anonymity of death.

Reference

Biography.com Editors. “René Magritte Biography.” The Biography.com website. 10 August 2015. 17 February 2017. <http://www.biography.com/people/rené-magritte-9395363>.

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