The Pleasure Principle (Portrait of Edward James) 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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The Pleasure Principle (Portrait of Edward James) is a surrealist art work, created by the Belgian painter Rene Magritte in 1937. This painting was made using oil on canvas, and it depicts a man at a desk, with a small (palm sized) asteroid style rock on the desktop in front of him.

Most strikingly, however, the male figure's face is completely obscured by a bright yellow and white light.

The figure in this painting is Edward James, a Surrealist poet who studied at Oxford and who wrote several dreamlike works of poetry (one of his popular titles is 'Swans Reflecting Elephants', for instance. More detail about The Pleasure Principle (Portrait of Edward James) remains to be uncovered, however.

Notably, the title 'The Pleasure Principle' derives from a book by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud which was published in the 1930s and which was called (in its English translation) 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle'. Freud's writings had a huge impact on contemporary surrealist painters, such as Dali and Magritte, and it seems obvious that The Pleasure Principle (Portrait of Edward James) is inspired at least in part by Freud's book of the same name.

If it were not for the light streaming from the shoulders of the seated male figure, The Pleasure Principle (Portrait of Edward James) would be a realistic work. The grain of the wood and the man's clothing and posture are all represented in a realistic manner. The addition of the light suddenly turns the whole painting into something new - something Surreal.

This is precisely how Magritte's surrealism works. As with The Pleasure Principle (Portrait of Edward James), Magritte will take a few ordinary elements (such as a human figure and a light) and then combine them in a way that is dreamlike and surreal. The Pleasure Principle (Portrait of Edward James) also presents us with a common theme in Magritte's work, namely the obscured face.

One of Magritte's most famous works, Son of Man, depicts a man's face obscured with an apple. Critics have speculated that Magritte's interest in the obscured face of the human form stems from his teenage years when he witnessed the body of his mother being recovered from a lake and was struck with horror at the cloth over her face.