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 one of the prime examples of Surrealism the collection possesses because of the evidence of Surrealism the painting has. Those themes can be translated into the exploration of the unconscious as a valid 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 ordered forms and figures with only three subjects visible: the boulder rock, the ocean, and the sky. A freestanding boulder rock against an open ocean, which is under a sky full of fluffy white clouds. The boulder is static, there are no contributing factors making it more exciting than as it is. The sea has no crashing waves or wind causing any stressful sudden movements. The peaceful ocean in only reflected against the gorgeous sky. If one would walk around the Menil Collection, they would see the other Magritte paintings with his trademark cursive signature and his captivating white clouds.
Magritte’s paintings consistently display the serene yet mysterious subject matter. Space is deep. Even though the sea is visible he uses the paint and digresses 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? The painter uses oil to convey this image. By using oil, one can only sense the tedious process Magritte went through to depict every detail on the boulder rock, sea, and sky.
Every detail would not be emphasized without each specific color used. The color palette Magritte uses in this painting is a soft light sky blue, white, gray, brown and black. He uses his 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, obstacles do not unreasonably 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 get a sense of emotional situations that only appear in our unconscious, which is the underlined puzzle that contributes to Surrealism.
Lines are important in the painting in which they subtly shape the images to be placed accordingly. There are sharp lines that outline the boulder rock, curved lines that shape the sea and outline wavelengths and ripple effects. The clouds form that is shown is used with a standard cloud look. White clouds are in a sky blue sky, an ideal look that gives off the beauty.
The painting is so large to look at it one must be forced to raise their heads slightly up. The scale of the painting gives the viewer a sense of wonder. Questions I thought of were, “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 of 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.