The great war

René Magritte • Painting, 1964, 81×60 cm
About the artwork
This artwork was added since it is referred to in the materials below
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Allegorical scene
Style of art: Surrealism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1964
Size: 81×60 cm
Artwork in selections: 61 selections

Description of the artwork «The great war»

"The Great War" is one of the works of the cycle dedicated to the hidden and visible, as well as the famous "Son of man" and "The Man in the Bowler Hat", created in the same 1964. These surreal works by Magritte offer the viewer a variety of interpretations, based both on the content of the works and on their titles, which play the role of peculiar keys to decipher the artist's mysteries.

In the painting, we see a wealthy lady, dressed in an elegant white dress, standing in front of a brick wall against the backdrop of the ocean. Using a technique often found in his work, Magritte places a smaller object in front of a larger one, masking part of the object in the background. In this work, Magritte places a bouquet of lilacs in front of a woman's face, hiding her identity from the viewer, thereby making one wonder if her expensive clothes, an exquisite handbag decorated with beads and embroidery, a hat with feathers, an elaborate parasol are more significant than her face?

Art critic Patrick Waldberg, who is close to the surrealists, quotes Magritte as saying: “The interesting thing in these paintings is the presence of the open visible and the hidden visible that suddenly burst into our consciousness, which in nature are never separated from each other. The visible always hides another visible behind it. My paintings simply reveal this state of affairs in a direct and unexpected way. Between what the world offers us as visible, and what this given visible underneath it hides, a certain action is played out. This action is visible, and it is like a struggle, and therefore the name "Great War" reproduces its content with sufficient accuracy. "

Although the painting depicting a woman is less famous than the associated work, The Son of Man, its interpretations are just as varied. The name "The Great War" obviously refers to the bloody events of the 20th century: hiding a woman's face with a beautiful bouquet, the artist seems to hint that the face of war can be much more monstrous than her robe, woven of promises and deceptive hopes, and the war itself is impersonal violence that destroys the usual way of life and human destinies.

A woman's outfit also plays an important role in understanding this work: when a soldier died at the front, engaged to a girl, she remained, in fact, an eternal bride, a widow in white. A bouquet of violets - a symbol of innocence and tenderness, like a bridal bouquet - enhances this impression. Hiding the face, this bouquet seems to hide grief and mourning from prying eyes, leaving only a symbolic reminder of what the war can deprive. We do not know anything about this woman, nor about the man to whom she was promised - only about what happened to them.

The very name of the violet flowers (viollette - fr.) Associatively hints at violence (viol, violence - fr.), Which is war and which, apparently, forever separated the lovers. Magritte wrote this work three years before his death, as a middle-aged man who had survived the horrors of two world wars.
Perhaps the artist expressed his grief about these events by metaphorically depicting a bride with an already unnecessary wedding bouquet, doomed to remain in a white wedding dress, alone on a pier along the deserted sea.

Author: Yulia Rakitina