Undoubtedly, the Belgian artist René Magritte requires little by way of introduction. He is widely known as one of the key figures in surrealism, an artistic movement that impacted on both painting and sculpture and that reached its height between 1925 and 1940. Yet, it could be that the 1933 piece La résponse imprévue (The Unexpected Answer), is somewhat less well-known than Magritte’s artistic reputation itself or than a number of other pieces from his rather large oeuvre. Works like La Trahison des Images (with the famous subtitle Ceci n’est pas une pipe) or Les Amants are more likely to ring a bell than The Unexpected Answer. Nevertheless, the latter is a clear example of Magritte’s inimitable artistic style. The painting depicts a door; the observer cannot make out whether it is made of ordinary wood or, indeed, of gold. What is striking is the large, irregularly shaped hole in the door that is vaguely reminiscent of the human form. Yet, it is not clear whether it is the outline of just one person or whether Magritte, in this painting, sought to depict the cut out silhouette of an embracing couple (Lombaerts himself interprets the silhouette as the depiction of a loving couple). Whichever it is, it is clear that the area cut away reveals a yawning darkness on the other side of the door. Just like the lion’s share of Magritte’s oeuvre, this work belongs, stylistically, to surrealism. Indeed, just as in a considerable number of his paintings, the almost cartoon-like simplicity of this oil on canvas seems at odds with the insightfulness and depth of Magritte’s message, namely, that truly ingenious breakthroughs are seldom, if ever, the result of using the predictable points of entry that passages and doors provide and the expected answers that they contain.
Dorothea Tanning on her 30th birthday painted her self-portrait “Birthday” in 1942.
Her fascination of the endless openings of doors depicts a surrealist’s image of the labyrinth, the ‘rooms’ of the unconscious mind. The winged creature in front of her is a nocturnal animal called a Lemur from Madagascar, usually associated with the spirits of the dead and the night. The theatrical purple jacket and the human-shaped roots skirt express the conflict and contrast of nature and culture.