MAGRITTE: THE ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE
The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas houses one of the greatest collections of Surrealist art in the world. Rene Magritte is one of the many artists featured in the collection. His 1955 painting, Les Origines du Langage (The Origins of Language) is a prime example of Surrealism because of its dreamy illusive landscape. Those themes can be translated into the exploration of the unconscious as a form of reality. This painting emphasizes on the ambiguous, strange, and mysterious efforts Surrealist painters worked towards.
The composition of the painting is designed with natural forms and figures. There is a freestanding boulder rock against an open ocean, which is under a sky full of fluffy white clouds. If you would walk around the Menil Collection you’d see the other Magritte paintings with his trademark cursive signature and his captivating white clouds. The form of the painting is open, with only three subjects visible: the boulder rock, the ocean and the sky. The boulder is static, there is nothing making it anything more than what it is. The sea has no crashing waves and there is no wind causing any stressful movement throughout the work. The peaceful ocean is reflected against the gorgeous sky. Magritte’s paintings consistently display serene yet mysterious subject matter. The space is deep. Even though the sea is visible, he uses the paint to digress the transparency of it as it recedes farther back into space and he overlaps the waves. The sky is flat. One cannot get a sense of a long huge sky, only that of stacked fluffy clouds. This brings questions to the scale of the setting, are we looking at a small or big boulder enlarged against a distant sea? Magritte uses oil to convey this and by doing so, we sense the tedious process he went through to depict every detail on the boulder rock, sea and sky.
Every detail would not be emphasized without each color used. The color palette is a soft light sky blue, white, grey, brown and black. He uses color to magnify the depth and space of the subjects. This neutral palette contributes to the mystery. There is not any contrast or bold colors to distract the eye from what is being shown. The eyes level with the natural landscape, and no obstacles divert them. The scene is peaceful and reflective into an unconscious mind. Since there isn’t a red sky or a green boulder, we don’t sense any energized emotions that appear in our unconscious, which is the underlined theme that contributes to Surrealism.
Lines are important in the painting, they subtly shape the images accordingly. There are sharp lines that outline the boulder rock, curved lines that shape the sea and outline wavelengths and rippled effects. The white clouds form dreams in a sky-blue sky.
The painting is so large, one must raise their heads slightly up to see the full work. The scale of the painting gives the viewer a sense of wonder. “How far does the sea go back?” Could I stand on the rock and contemplate the mystery and serenity of an ocean?” “Where can my mind go? How far can I think with this painting?” There is no sense of life in the painting, only the rock, sea and the rock. We are the life looking into this Surrealist landscape painting.