The Power to Surprise and Delight Us (René Magritte)

This came across one of my social media feeds today:

René Magritte, Empire of Light (L’Empire des lumières), 1953–54, oil on canvas, Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Italy

I was momentarily taken aback, completely engaged in the moment. Clearly, I thought, this painting is showing that time of day when the sun’s going down, in the spring or fall, but the sun’s behind the trees, so where you are is already dark while the sky is still light. It’s getting cooler where you are, without the sun. But it’s not yet night. Kind of cozy. Maybe you’re hurrying home or heading out to meet friends. A lovely moment, I thought, captured beautifully.

But wait. That looks like Magritte, although this painting isn’t supernatural or weird (in a good way, Magritte). It’s a building lit by a streetlight as the sun’s going down. I’m not a Magritte expert, but I didn’t think that Magritte would paint a lovely moment. So I peeked at the caption (yep, Magritte) then clicked through to the description by the Guggenheim, where their writer uses very different words than I do to describe this painting: paradoxical, confusing, unease, confusion, unsettling. Magritte has painted day and night together, and  experts agree that this is unnerving. Continue reading

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