René Magritte – The False Mirror – 1928

Rene Magritte’s “The False Mirror” is a haunting piece of surrealist art that challenges the perceptions of the artist, and the viewer.  A giant eye is formed as a frame of a blue sky with clouds.  The pupil of the eye rests dead center in sharp color contrast to the white and blue of the sky, and also with a contrast of form – the hard outline of the pupil against the soft curves and natural form of the clouds.
The piece finds balance in its both horizontal and vertical symmetries of shape.  There is also somewhat of color symmetry diagonally with lighter sections of the eyelids in opposite corners.  All of the symmetries apparent in this painting originate in the pupil, which combined with its contrast with the other parts of the painting takes on the focal point and emphasis of the piece.  Interestingly, Magritte chooses a simple shape of solid color as the focal point.
Perhaps, Magritte meant the center of interest to be not the actually pupil, but the frontier between the pupil and sky; and more importantly, the distinction between the two.  Is the sky part of the eye? Is the sky reflected by the eye? Is the eye a looking glass to see the sky?
By choosing a human eye as a lens to look at the sky, Magritte essentially raises a question about humans (represented by the eye, our visual connection to anything else) seeing, both literally and figuratively, the world (represented by the sky).  In any type of philosophy, the way that humans perceive the world, their location, is essential to understanding the general human condition.
The hard contrast of the black pupil against the sky iris suggests that the sky is in fact behind the pupil.  With this realization, it would seem that by looking at this eye, one is indeed looking through the eye and into the brain.  The inside of a human, then is the contents of the world.  The world is only a product of human’s imagination and creation.
The black of the pupil, however, does suggest a void present in the center of the eye, which would allow the sky to be a reflection on the surface of the iris.  The surface of the iris, and thus humans in general, are but a reflection of the sky, and thus the world.  Humans are the product and representation of the world.
Do humans create their environment and world, or are we merely the ones created?  It is this simple question that makes Magritte’s “False Mirror” so tantalizing.  Peering so close into or at an eye induces a sense of wonder and awe. A common proverb is suggested and indeed questioned with this piece: “Eyes are the windows to the soul.”  But in this case, the eye is not connected to a body. The eye does not have a face or head to make it distinguishable and the property of someone.  Magritte’s eye takes on a universal role serving as the eye of humanity, and the representation of all humans.  By looking into this eye, essentially, we are trying to understand our own existence in the world.
The unity of the piece as a painting, and philosophical conundrum allow it to simultaneously pleasure our eyes as well as our minds.  Though the sky does not actually exist behind our eyes, nor is it perfectly reflected by them, the image of sky and eye do indeed fit together in this painting.
Magritte has indeed produced a good piece of art in that it addresses the visual demands of the viewer, but raises questions and provokes thought by the viewer.  As a piece of the surrealist movement, this painting is free from traditional rationality, customs and structures; but is cohesive in design and image.  It elicits imagination and dreaming, while making a statement about common thought and philosophy.  The simple painting of sky in an iris is no longer; it is a representation of the human condition in the world, which surrealists sought so hard to understand between and during the two devastating world wars of the early to mid 20th century.


5 Responses to “René Magritte – The False Mirror – 1928”

  1. Visual Culture: Analysis of the Rene Magritte’s “The False Mirror” | Diaghe's (B)Log Says:

    […] var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname="Visual Culture: Analysis of the Rene Magritte’s “The False Mirror”"; a2a_config.linkurl=""; Tagged: Rene Magritte » The False Mirror […]

  2. Diaghe Says:

    Great Painting and great explanation, really opened my mind to some ideas thanks for sharing.

  3. ana Says:

    thanks really helped with homework xxx

  4. arianastarkman Says:

    Thank you so much! It is fascinating what he can do with the human eye!

  5. Kayla Says:

    Amazing description of this mind blowing piece of art. I’m a big fan of Magritte. The fact that he was very normal (on the outside at least) person intrigues me. He wasn’t as eccentric as Dali for instance, but still the ideas behind his paintings were absolutely mind blowing! If hell exists, i hope to meet him there.

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