Hegel's Holiday 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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René Magritte's 1958 painting Hegel's Holiday, or Les Vacances de Hegel in French, is very unusual for this artist in that he didn't name it himself, preferring instead to opt for the title of a poem by the Belgian poet Paul Nougé.

The picture shows an umbrella, something used to repel rain and provide shelter, topped by a glass, which of course actually holds water. Paul Nougé (1895-1967) was the founder of surrealism in Belgium, with Magritte also being a member of this group, and illustrating some of Nougé's poems. In return, Nougé wrote prefaces to some of the works of his fellow Belgian surrealist.

Magritte posed the question to himself of how to recreate a glass of water with genius without the picture becoming, as he put it, "indifferent". He started by drawing this tumbler over and over again, always with a linear mark, attempting unsuccessfully to accurately repeat the initial stain. After over a hundred tries, the line widened to become an umbrella, which was first placed in the glass and then underneath it, presenting the viewer with both transparent and opaque surfaces.

Magritte had created something from nothing, or at least a mark, that became a definite and practical image, with no idea himself that it would finish like that.

Georg (or G. W. F.) Hegel (1770-1831) was a Stuttgart-born philosopher, a significant name in German idealism who also became important in the analytical discipline. Magritte felt that Hegel, who he described as "another genius", would have appreciated the idea of a form that both accepted and denied water. This straightforward concept is a contradiction and a contrast that doesn't require too much consideration. It is an amusing entertainment, making it somewhat of a holiday for a serious thinker.

The artist did have some reservations about the revised title of this canvas, having originally declared it as The Philosopher's Holiday. The Nazi party had seen things in Hegel's writings that they believed to match their own abhorrent beliefs, but Magritte decided that to agree with this would give relevance to what he called "the brutes". He wrote to a friend that the many good aspects should be remembered, with anything else (if it existed, he argued) being left to the ugly in life.