Magritte begun his series of "word- paintings" in October 1927 with the work La Clé des songes and then La Table, l'océan et le fruit. In his paintings, the painter combines words and images on the canvas, questioning the conventions of language. Where other artists, such as Miró, introduce words into their works in order to reinforce the meaning of the images, Magritte, on the contrary calls into question the relationship between the two, asserting the right to dissociate the image from the word that corresponds to it. This dissociation is particularly present two years later in the painting La trahison des images (1929, Los Angeles County Museum) in which Magritte depicted a pipe under which he wrote "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe), reminding us that the realistic image of an object remains an image and that an object's identification with a word is purely arbitrary.
This position, crucial for an understanding of Magritte's work, was resumed by the painter in a manifesto published in issue number 12 of La Revolution Surréaliste in December 1929 under the title of "Les mots et les images". In this text accompanied by drawings, Magritte drew up an inventory of the relationships he had established between words and images in his paintings. There were eighteen cases in all, which question every time the link, arbitrary in the artist's eyes, between a thing's name and the thing itself.
By doing so, in a broad reflection on reality and illusion, Magritte questions our system of pictorial or linguistic representation: according to the artist, the relation established between the thing, the name, and the image only makes sense within a system of representation recognised by everyone, within a convention. The name or the image cannot indeed substitute the thing and the resemblance between image and object is only one criterion among others. As Suzi Gablik describes, "through his paintings which represent words and images, Magritte seeks to highlight the confusions and excessive simplifications so deeply rooted in our language habits that we do not notice them." (in Magritte, Brussels, 1978). Shown in January 1928 at L'Epoque gallery, La Table, l'océan et le fruit takes a full part in this singular approach, that André Breton qualified as "a unique, rigorous enterprise, on the edge of the physical and the mental."
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