Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938

René Magritte. _Le Joueur secret (The Secret Player)._ Brussels, 1927

René Magritte. Le Joueur secret (The Secret Player). Brussels, 1927

Oil on canvas
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

Narrator: The Secret Player shows two men playing a game in a strange landscape.

Curator, Art Institute of Chicago, Stephanie D’Alessandro: That figure on the left has this bat, like he's going to swat at something. But the thing that he might swat at, which seems menacing and looming, is not within the range of where he'd hit. It looks like a turtle. But if you look at that head, it looks like a tree trunk. And then there's this woman, mannequin-like, who is in a box with some kind of contraption on her chin.

Narrator: The painting features other unsettling details such as the lighting on the figures and bilboquets, or spindle-like forms.

Stephanie D’Alessandro: It seems like the light is coming from the left side of the picture and the figure on the left is strongly illuminated—more so than the figure in the center. If you look at those bilboquets, they're very highlighted on one side. But what's interesting and strange is that the right side of them also has a very bright highlight, so that it almost seems like there might be two sources of illumination in the picture.

I think that part of Magritte's project is to play with things that are commonplace, and in turning them on their head, bringing out the strangeness of looking at paint on a canvas and expecting to see something real in it. His project is to not give us a narrative but instead to evoke a mood, to make us aware of those habits that we have every time we look at a picture. So it's frustrating, in a way, to look at the picture and look for meaning and to walk away with a sense of foreboding perhaps, a sense of disquiet. And that's actually Magritte's meaning.

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