The imagery of the present composition has its roots in Magritte’s celebrated bowler-hatted man, which has undergone several metamorphoses in which the man’s head has gradually disappeared, giving way to the oversized apple. In La carte postale of 1960 (fig. 1) the apple appears suspended in the air, like a heavy cloud, above the image of a suited man seen from the back. In Le fils de l’homme of 1964 (fig. 2) the man is seen frontally, his facial features obscured by the apple hanging in front of him. In the present work, Magritte takes this idea a step further, eliminating the man’s head altogether and replacing it entirely with the apple which looms above his suit and collar, placed against a monochrome background. In L’Idée, therefore, the figure’s identity is completely removed, alluding to the subject of a faceless modern man, which plays such a crucial part in Magritte’s iconography.
The subject of the apple appears throughout Magritte’s work in various contexts: sometimes grotesquely enlarged to fill an entire room, sometimes fossilised into stone, or, as in the series titled Le prêtre marié, where two masked apples are placed in a landscape. This simple everyday object, often associated with the traditional genre of still-life, is thus transformed into something inexplicable and unknown. In L’Idée, by replacing what otherwise would have been a human head, the apple serves as a device for Magritte’s favourite theme, that of hiding or obscuring human beings, and rendering them as faceless figures whose individuality remains a mystery to the viewer.
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