René Magritte The Lovers Paris 1928

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 517 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

In this unsettling image—the first in a series of four variations of Les Amants that Magritte painted in 1928—the artist invokes the cinematic cliché of a close–up kiss but subverts our voyeuristic pleasure by shrouding the faces in cloth. The device of a draped cloth or veil to conceal a figure’s identity corresponds to a larger Surrealist interest in masks, disguises, and what lies beyond or beneath visible surfaces. The melodramatic scene may also relate to the graphic illustrations that accompanied pulp fiction and thriller stories, which Magritte's friend Paul Nougé, in a letter from 1927, encouraged the artist to emulate.

Gallery label from Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 , September 28, 2013–January 12, 2014 .
Additional text

Frustrated desires are a common theme in René Magritte’s work. Here, a barrier of fabric prevents the intimate embrace between two lovers, transforming an act of passion into one of isolation and frustration. Some have interpreted this work as a depiction of the inability to fully unveil the true nature of even our most intimate companions.

Enshrouded faces were a common motif in Magritte’s art. The artist was 14 when his mother committed suicide by drowning. He witnessed her body being fished from the water, her wet nightgown wrapped around her face. Some have speculated that this trauma inspired a series of works in which Magritte obscured his subjects’ faces. Magritte disagreed with such interpretations, denying any relation between his paintings and his mother’s death. “My painting is visible images which conceal nothing,” he wrote, “they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, ‘What does it mean?’ It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.”

Oil on canvas
21 3/8 x 28 7/8" (54 x 73.4 cm)
Gift of Richard S. Zeisler
Object number
© 2024 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

We have identified these works in the following photos from our exhibition history.

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].

Provenance Research Project

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

Jean Bastien, Brussels, by 1953 [1]. [E.L.T. (Edouard Léon Théodore) Mesens (1903-1971), Brussels and London] [2]. Fernand Graindorge (1903-1985), Liège, by 1955 [3]; to Hecker Jensen, Basel [4]; sold to Richard L. Feigen Gallery, Chicago, by 1958 [5]; sold to Richard S. Zeisler, New York, September 1958 [6]; acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1998 (Bequest of Richard S. Zeisler).

[1] See David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield, eds. René Magritte: Catalogue raisonné I: Oil Paintings 1916-1930, Houston: Menil Foundation et al., 1992, p. 296, no. 250: "It may have been for some time (according to Marcel Mariën) in the collection of Jean Bastien, Brussels. It must have been the version recorded in a sale of modern pictures at the Galerie Georges Giroux, Brussels, on 17 October 1953, where lot 333 was entitled 'Les Amants' … but according to an annotation made by Mesens in his copy of the catalogue, it was withdrawn."
[2] Per Richard L. Feigen, "according to whom it had formerly been in the collections of E.L.T. Mesens and Hecker Jensen, Basle" (ibid., p. 297).
[3] Lender to the exhibitions L'Apport wallon au surréalisme: peinture poésie, Musée des Beaux Arts, Liège, October 13-November 12, 1955, no. 59; and XXXe Salon. Cercle royal artistique et littéraire de Charleroi, Salle de la Bourse, Charleroi, March 3-22, 1956, no. 51 (Les amants [I]).
[4] See David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield, eds. René Magritte, p. 296, no. 250.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.

Provenance research is a work in progress, and is frequently updated with new information. If you have any questions or information to provide about the listed works, please email [email protected] or write to:

Provenance Research Project
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].