Possessing a striking ethereal beauty, L’Émpire de la réflexion is a testament to René Magritte's quiet powers of subversion: overturning the viewer’s expectations and challenging the way in which we perceive the world around us. In the present work, Magritte positions the Earth as a celestial body hovering above a verdant landscape in the place habitually occupied by the moon. We can discern the outlines of the American and African continents although they appear in unexpected positions as if reflected in a mirror so that a sense of other-worldliness pervades; the viewer stands on terra firma, gazing out at an unfamiliar version of our world reflected back at them. The curiously empty landscape stretches to the far horizon with no signs of human presence, vistas of a new world opening up to explore and discover.
Executed in 1947, Magritte's depiction of the Earth as a serene microcosm floating within the sky is remarkably prescient of the celebrated photographs taken over two decades later from the surface of the moon which similarly revealed our planet floating, jewel-like, within space. Intriguingly, Magritte himself wrote of this work: ‘in the sky a large mirror sends back to us the image of the earth’ (quoted in David Sylvester, Sarah Whitfield & Michael Raeburn (eds.), op. cit. p. 94). This vast looking-glass also arguably serves as a metaphorical mirror of the soul, projecting back the interior monologues of those witnesses to its presence, ensuring that every interpretation of L’Émpire de la réflexion is a uniquely personal one.
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