Rene Magritte's painting titled The Son of Man is both puzzling and popular. It is possibly one of the most easily recognizable surrealist paintings and has become an iconic image, appearing in various formats, in numerous books, films and videos.
Originally painted in 1964 as an oil on canvas and measuring 89cm by 116cm, this fascinating painting started out as a self-portrait.
In 1963, Magritte's good friend, advisor and patron, Harry Torczyner, commissioned a self portrait of Magritte himself. However letters written by Magritte indicate that he found it difficult to paint his own portrait. Magritte described his difficulties as a "problem of conscience".
When Magritte finally finished his self-portrait, the resulting image was of this anonymous man in a bowler hat and titled "The Son of Man".
At first glance, "The Son of Man" appears to be a rather simplistic drawing yet it is profoundly perplexing. A figure of a man stands in front of a stone or concrete sea wall.
Above the horizon line the sky appears cloudy and is just starting to turn grey. The viewer is given the impression that it is daytime as there is some light reflecting on the man and his left side is falling slightly into shadow.
The man appears overdressed and out of context within the setting. He is dressed formally, wearing a dark grey suit complete with a bowler hat, collar and red tie.
If the viewer looks more closely they discover that the third, or bottom button of his jacket has been left undone. The figure stands stiffly with his arms by his side but again, when the viewer studies the image carefully, they notice that the figure's left elbow faces the wrong way.
When the viewer focusses solely on the left arm and nothing else, the man in the painting appears to face the water. Only the man's torso is shown, the viewer can only assume that he has legs.
The most striking aspect of the image is the man's face which has been obscured by a bright, green apple which has four leaves attached. Barely visible, the man's left eye seems to be peeking through the leaves of the apple.
Magritte used the apple to hide his real face and in his own comments about the painting, Magritte discussed the human desire to see what's hidden behind the visible.
He spoke of the conflict that can arise between "the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present". Magritte cleverly captures this feeling within the picture. The viewer is both curious and frustrated about the face which cannot be seen because of the position of the apple. The viewer has to imagine what the face is like.
The painting appears to have been created as a series of three on a similar theme. "The Great War on the Facades" is a painting of a woman near a sea-wall but her face is obscured by a flower. Magritte's "Man in a Bowler Hat" shows yet another figure wearing a bowler hat but this time his face is obscured by a bird. All three were painted in the same year. Magritte painted a very similar painting to "The Son of Man", also in 1964, titled "The Taste of the Invisible"". It was his repetition and recycling of some of his paintings and motifs which drew criticism from other artists.
The use of the apple is probably the most perplexing issue. The association between use of the apple and the title of the painting "The Son of Man" has caused some experts to consider whether this is a deliberate reference to Christian ideas about the temptation of Adam in the Garden of Eden and the fall of mankind. Yet "son of man" can refer to anyone, even a faceless man in a suit.
Both the apple and the bowler hat have become recurring motifs within Magritte's paintings. Numerous paintings feature apples. "Hesitation Waltz" from 1950 shows two masked apples. A simple picture of an apple with the contradictory title of "This is not an Apple" proved very popular. The 1952 image of a huge green apple confined in a small room, titled "The Listening Room" is a very well-known Magritte image. Some years later Paul McCartney, a Magritte enthusiast, saw a painting of an apple with Au Revoir written across it. This was the 1966 painting called "The Game of Mora" and it provided McCartney with the inspiration for the Beatles' own Apple label and logo. Another "famous" apple has now spawned numerous "Son of Man" stickers. The stickers are of a man in a bowler hat and are designed to fit over the apple logo on a Mac and are clearly inspired by Magritte's "The Son of Man" Painting.
The bowler-hatted man makes numerous appearances both singularly, as in the painting called Schoolmaster and in groups, such as in the "The Masterpiece" (also known as Mysteries of the Horizon) which features three men wearing bowler hats. The first instance of a man in a bowler hat appeared in Magritte's 1926 painting called the "Musings of a Solitary Walker". Magritte himself was often photographed wearing a bowler hat and through his repeated use of this particular motif in his paintings, the bowler hat has become a Magritte "trademark". Although it appears that the bowler-hatted man refers to the artist himself, in the painting known as "The Son of Man" which started out as a self-portrait, the blandness or uniformity of the bowler hat has also made the figure ordinary or anonymous.
The Son of Man is privately owned so it is rarely on public display. It was last seen briefly in 2001 in the LHotel's lounge in Montreal. Despite the lack of opportunities to view this wonderful painting, the image has become widely recognized due to its frequent use in popular culture. It has been shared, described and depicted in many forms. One of the most notable uses of the image occurred in the 1999 remake of the film called The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Pierce Brosnan. In the film the painting appears on the wall in Thomas Crown's house where Rene Russo likened it to a "faceless businessman". Also during the heist scene, Thomas Crown and several others dress in the same bowler hat, red tie and suit as the figure in the painting in order to confuse the security guards. Other films to have featured the painting are "Mr. Magorium's Empire" and "Bronson" as well as numerous others.
The image has been seen in the world of pop too. It was shown in the futuristic gallery scene in Michael and Janet Jackson's Scream video. The iconic character was also depicted in the video of "Astral Traveller" by the group Yes. Even the Simpsons show has imitated this painting with Bart Simpson appearing behind the apple.
The artist Norman Rockwell also paid tribute to "The Son of Man" by creating his own painting in 1970 which he called "Mr. Apple". Rockwell's painting featured a red apple instead of the figure's head. Rockwell's painting was sold in 2011 for $33,772.
The Son of Man is simple yet striking, clear yet enigmatic. The focus upon a man in a suit with his face obscured, has captured the imagination of millions. Magritte's quirky paintings have provided the inspiration for whole new generation of artists such as Andy Warhol and the pop art movement. Though Magritte the artist might have personally preferred to blend in, rather like his bowler-hatted alter ego, his amazing paintings certainly stand out. Magritte once said that mystery is unknowable, so as much as much as "The Son of Man" can be analysed and interpreted, it will always remain an enigmatic piece of art that will continue to amaze and entertain the viewer.
The Son of Man by Rene Magritte, 1964 is a famous Surrealist painting which depicts a suited gentleman with an apple hovering in front of his face
Son of Man is a famous Surrealist oil painting by talented artist Rene Magritte, who remains one of the most respected Europeans within this highly contemporary art movement. This website is devoted to the Son of Man painting and also covers the rest of Magritte's career in great detail.
You will find many of his most famous paintings included throughout this page, as well as links to where you can buy your own reproduction prints of Magritte's original paintings.
Son of Man is known for it's bizarre use of an apple in front of the head of a man dressed smartly in a suit. The Son of Man is actually a truly surrealist depiction of Magritte himself, as his best known self-portrait, though many who like the painting are not actually aware of this and enjoy the mystery around it.
As with most surrealist paintings, Son of Man is only truly understood as a work in it's own right once a small amount of study has been done on it - you can't simply browse through images of Magritte's work and understand it straight away.
Son of Man by Rene Magritte was created in 1964 and represents the finest piece of art work to have come from the career of this Belgian innovator. The original piece stands at an impressive 116 cm × 89 cm (45.67 in × 35 in) and is the typical oil on canvas that was found right throughout the 20th century. Sadly the Son of Man is now privately owned meaning that the opportunity to see it for yourself are rare, despite it's great fame and importance within the overall European surrealist movement.
In view of it's status as a privately owned piece, many choose to buy reproductions of the original to enjoy in their own homes and these can take the form of prints, posters and stretched canvases. Framed prints tend to be the most popular choice and also giclees can best match the original colour schemes chosen by Magritte. All of the links included within this website offer Rene Magritte prints from recommended retailer, Art.com, whom we regularly use ourselves.
Rene Magritte was an impressionist early on in his career before arriving at his trademark surrealist style after several years of study which helped to develop both his technical ability and also his range of ideas that inspired his work. Surrealism is one of the most popular aspects of contemporary art from the 20th century, and Magritte sits at the top of the pile within this, alongside other greats like Spaniard Salvador Dali.
Surrealism has gathered a large group of fans in almost a cultish style but the movement has certainly become part of mainstream art over the years, after first being seen with suspicion and not the same academic respect that it receives today.
Magritte's approach to art was intended to encourage his supporters to consider more closely the reality that lays around them, and not just accept things as they appear to be.
This deep thinking mentality is highly typical of any significant artist, particularly from those in the more contemporary art movements which placed a high level of importance on the creative mind which sat behind each painting, rather than simply the technical skill which was used to create it.
Surrealist paintings typically offer the viewer a confused reality with high levels of symbolism and Magritte shows this off in Son of Man. Many of his other notable paintings are listed further down the page, and images of the best are found right across this website.
Other notable Surrealist painters included Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret, René Crevel, Robert Desnos, Jacques Baron, Max Morise, Pierre Naville, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Hans Arp, Georges Malkine, Michel Leiris, Georges Limbour, André Masson, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp and Yves Tanguy.
A few years after this painting, American artist Norman Rockwell created his own version which replaced the green apple with a red one and played homage to the original which probably stands as the most famous Belgian painting of all time.
The Great War on Façades followed a similar format to this and that is also amongst the best known of Magritte's career. Another related work was Man in the Bowler Hat, which replaces an apple with a bird which again is placed in front of the smartly dressed gentleman with bowler hat.
Son of Man came just three years before the artist's death and it is interesting to consider what further surrealist paintings he may have come up with if his life had lasted longer. There is a certain look within his paintings which make them instantly recognisable as his, both with the color scheme and surrealist symbolism. His success has continued onto the present day with frequent exhibitions across Europe and North America.
Rene Magritte is an important artist who was rare in that Belgian artists have very rarely achieved high levels of exposure. His career helps to highlight the role this country has played within art and help to preserve it's reputation which is normally forgotten when compared to it's heavyweight neighbours of Germany, Netherlands and France who all have had an abundance of success for many centuries and across different art movements.
List of Famous Rene Magritte Paintings
Please see below for a summarised list of the best Rene Magritte paintings which are featured throughout this website.
The Treachery of Images
On the Threshold of Liberty
The Son of Man
The Empty Mask
The Difficult Crossing
The Human Condition
Not to be Reproduced
The Mysteries of the Horizon
The Menaced Assassin
Golconde by Rene Magritte, 1953 is a Surrealist oil painting currently on display at the Menil Collection, Houston, Texas.
Drops of rain are represented by repeated images of a smart gentleman.
Golconda is known as Golconde in French, which was the preferred language of this Belgian artist.
Suited gentlemen are common used in many of Magritte's paintings, specifically in his period of surrealist work.
Le Blanc-Seing by Rene Magritte, 1965 is a surrealist painting which is known as The Blank Check in English.
Le Blanc-Seing features some interesting techniques which the artist used to create this attention grabbing scene where the background and foreground mingle together.
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.