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René Magritte | Le poison, 1939

From: Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Le poison was the first in a series of works known as L’empire des lumières (The Empire of Lights).
The gouache shows silhouettes of houses with lighted windows.
The moon shines and the stars twinkle on the walls of the houses, but at the same time the sky is as light as during the day.
The simultaneous rendering of day and night, with a light blue sky and dark façades visible because of artificial light, would inspire the artist for a long time.
René Magritte (1898-1967) made variations on this theme in no fewer than seventeen oil paintings and ten gouaches over a period of more than ten years (from the late 1940s to the early 1960s).

In 1956 Magritte spoke about it in a TV programme:

"For me, the concept of a painting is an idea of a thing or many things that can be made visible by my painting … the idea is not visible in the painting: an idea cannot be seen with the eyes. What is represented in a picture is what is visible to the eyes; it is the thing or things that were needed for the idea. So what are represented in L’empire des lumières are the things that gave me my idea, that is to say a nocturnal landscape and a sky we see in broad daylight … This evocation of night and day seems to me endowed with the power to surprise and enchant us. I call this power: poetry".

In his work Magritte strove to cast doubt on reality, precisely by starting from reality. The basis of the L’empire des lumières series is the opposition of real extremes, which, admittedly, tolerate one another, but create an ominous atmosphere.

In the series he also refers to other Surrealist writers and artists, like André Breton and Max Ernst.
Breton’s influence is revealed from an extract from the lecture that Magritte gave in London in 1937.
Based on a short text by Breton he showed that an image could replace a word.

The text read ‘Si seulement …’, but for the benefit of the English audience it was freely translated as ‘If only the sun would shine tonight’, where the word ‘sun’ can be replaced by a drawing of a sun.
Si seulement’ are the first words of Breton’s poem L’aigrette in the collection of poems Claire de terre (1923).
Breton’s poetic yearning for the union of day and night is mirrored in Magritte’s works in the L’empire des lumières series. Ernst’s influence, on the other hand, can be seen in the contrast of day and night, which is also present in reverse in Ernst’s Day and Night (1941-42).

Rene Magritte at work in his living room, 1964

Le poison è stato il primo di una serie di opere conosciute come L'empire des lumières (L'impero delle luci).
La gouache mostra sagome di case con finestre illuminate.
La luna brilla e le stelle brillano sui muri delle case, ma allo stesso tempo il cielo è leggero come di giorno.
La resa simultanea del giorno e della notte, con un cielo azzurro e facciate scure visibili a causa della luce artificiale, ispirerà l'artista per molto tempo.
René Magritte ha apportato variazioni su questo tema in diciassette dipinti ad olio e dieci gouaches in un periodo di oltre dieci anni (dalla fine degli anni Quaranta all'inizio degli anni Sessanta).

Esistono numerose versioni de L’Impero delle luci (Museum of Modern Art, New York; Musées des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles).
Magritte ha lavorato su questo tema per i successivi 15 anni dal 1949.

René Magritte | L'Empire des lumières / L'impero delle luci, 1949

Il primo dipinto della serie de L'Impero delle luci di René Magritte, è stato realizzato nel 1949.
E’ rappresentata una strada buia, un notturno, nella parte bassa del quadro e in quella superiore un cielo azzurro, illuminato dalle luce del sole.
Dunque le due parti del dipinto sono in netto contrasto, in una combinazione paradossale di giorno e di notte.
La strada tranquilla dipinti nella tela rispecchia la tranquillità di rue de Esseghem dove l’artista viveva a Bruxelles.

L'Empire des lumières / L'impero delle luci, 1953-54 | Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia (Fondazione Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York)

"Dopo aver dipinto L’empire des lumières, ho avuto l’idea della notte e del giorno che esistono insieme, come fossero una sola cosa. E’ ragionevole: nel mondo il giorno e la notte esistono nello stesso tempo.
Proprio come la tristezza esiste sempre in alcune persone e allo stesso tempo la felicità esiste in altre" - Così Magritte spiegava il dipinto ad un amico nel 1966.