Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Empire of Light


Above is a painting by my favorite artist, Belgian surrealist René Magritte  (1898 – 1967), called The Empire of Light. It's actually one of a series, and all the paintings have the same title, so they have to be distinguished by their locations--this one is in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, located in Brussels. 

The series, which attempted to show a juxtaposition of a street at night against a sunny, daylight sky, was painted in 1953-1954. One website states that the painting "became so popular that he made several versions", but I think that it's possible that Magritte painted several versions because the subject is very challenging, and he was trying to get it just right. He was attempting to show a surreal contrast between night and day, but there is a time in the evening that the sky is still pretty bright, even when the city below is cloaked in shadow, and he had to strike just the right balance to make us realize that it was, in fact, a daytime sky, and not simply a twilight one. For example, this one, at the Museum of Modern Art, could be mistaken merely for a twilight picture: 



I think of all the paintings in the Empire of Light series, the one at the Royal Museums in Brussels does the job best, probably because of Margitte's choice to include the large puddle on the street. It accurately reflects the night scene, but is unaffected by the blue sky above. This makes a stronger statement, in my opinion, of the marked difference between day and night, eliminating the possible confusion of twilight. 

If the images seem familiar to you, it might be because you own or have seen the 1974 album cover of Late for the Sky by Jackson Browne, which was inspired by the painting(s). There is actually a credit inside the album that says,"cover concept Jackson Browne if it's all reet with Magritte". Magritte was dead by then, but I guess it was "all reet" with his estate.  

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33329375
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Empire_of_Light_MOMA.jpg

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