Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938

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René Magritte. _La Reproduction interdite (Not to Be Reproduced)._ Brussels, 1937

René Magritte. La Reproduction interdite (Not to Be Reproduced). Brussels, 1937

Oil on canvas
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Narrator: Edward James, a British poet and patron of Surrealism, commissioned Magritte to make this portrait in 1937, titled Not to be Reproduced.

Curator, Art Institute of Chicago, Stephanie D'Alessandro: When you look at James's head you see that hair, and every lock is so carefully described—and the beautiful softness of his flesh and the hard highlight of the collar and the wrinkles in his suit.

Narrator: James stands before a mirror—but Magritte does not reveal the reflection of his face.

Stephanie D'Alessandro: It's a very frustrating experience, in a way, and wonderful at the same time it's part of his larger project about what painting traditionally is supposed to tell us, especially painting that is in a naturalistic mode.

The whole idea of a title about reproduction is interesting here. We think about reproduction as something that tells us the truth. Reproduction also suggests multiplicity. All of that plays into the image that we see on this canvas.

Narrator: On the mantel is Edgar Allan Poe's novel, The Narratives of Arthur Gordon Pym.

Stephanie D'Alessandro: Poe looms large for Magritte. Not only as someone who evokes a kind of disquieting mood, but also someone who plays with narrative in interesting ways, leads people down uncomfortable paths.

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