Clairvoyance (Self Portrait) Rene Magritte Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Famous for his thought-provoking and visually challenging surrealist works, René Magritte was a Belgian artist from Lessines. Although he trained at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, he was not very inspired by his instruction and really developed his own style in later years.

At first glance, La Clairvoyance Self Portrait (1936) appears, uncharacteristically, to be a somewhat more realist work for an artist famous for his surrealist tendencies. Yet, look closer and the viewer will see that Magritte is, once again, toying with us and challenging our perceptions. The painting is a self-portrait depicting the artist working at his easel. The picture he paints is of a bird in flight, but follow his eyeline to the focus of his work and we see only an egg, a common subject of still life works.

There may be several interpretations here of one of Magritte's most beguiling paintings. Perhaps he is showing how he has broken with the historical traditions of painting what one sees, representing his scope as an artist, at the same time as rejecting classical styles of painting. Magritte seems to be suggesting that art allows us the freedom to explore what might be, rather than simply what is, and shows that he is not constrained by what he sees before him.

Indeed, ordinary objects are often depicted in unusual ways in Magritte's work and there can be no doubt that his preference was for the surreal and imagined. Perhaps the flight of the bird symbolises Magritte’s own 'flights of fancy' and the sense of freedom to be found in painting what he imagined, rather than what he saw.

Moreover, the title of the work suggests that Magritte is saying that he can see into the future. Does he do so with irony or is there a deeper meaning at work that might also apply to many of his works - that is, a foretelling of what may come. Either way, Magritte is challenging the viewer's perceptions and, along with his surrealist contemporaries such as Joan Miro and Salvador Dali, his works enter into a dialogue with the viewer in which we are made to consider and reconsider his meaning.