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Behind the Images with Chief Curator Xavier Canonne


By Siobhan Brewood-Wyatt

For a surrealist expert, author and academic, few things can be more exciting than curating a five-year international exhibition on one of surrealism’s most iconic figures. And that’s exactly what Chief Curator Xavier Canonne has had the pleasure of achieving with René Magritte: The Revealing Image – Photos and Film

The curation of the 132 images (plus eight films) on exhibit from a collection of over 500 “behind-the-scenes” images of Magritte’s artistic and private life proved difficult for Canonne. “I had to make some decisions. Some [images] weren’t as interesting or as important as others,” he says. “I arranged them into six sections, which correspond with the chapters in the [exhibition’s] partner catalogue [titled René Magritte: The Revealing Image].” It will be translated into multiple languages.

At the heart of the exhibition is a chance to celebrate the depth of Magritte’s work while “reading” the lauded surrealist’s distinctive style through his imagery and subject matter. It has been, Canonne explains, a lengthy process that has resulted in a much greater understanding of the man behind the easel.

“This process resulted in a greater understanding of the man behind the easel”

For one, Canonne believes that the common tropes across the exhibition tell us much more about Magritte’s particular artistic brand of creativity. One such theme is covered visages. “People hide their faces and turn their backs to the camera, which was totally unusual for the time,” says Canonne. “[Subjects] play with the function of imagery; it’s also a chance for Magritte to play with the medium of photography in the same way he played with his paintings.”


“Magritte was never really satisfied with merely reproducing life,” he continues. “In his paintings, he always shows there is something more – and the same can be said of his photography.” It’s something Canonne refers to as “extending the possibility of the universe” to show there’s always something behind the initial appearance, and is something visitors should consider when perusing the show.


Canonne cites two particular works from the show that illustrate his observations, demonstrating how visitors can consider common themes across the images on display.

René Magritte painting Clairvoyance, 1936

René Magritte painting Clairvoyance, 1936, René Magritte: The Revealing Image – Photos and Film at ArtisTree, Taikoo Place


This is “a perfect example of how Magritte uses photography for his own artistic search. The photo shows him seated in front of an easel, in the same position as he has represented himself on the canvas.” The result? “A mise-en-abyme-style self-portrait which goes beyond the notion of ‘document.’”

The Shadow and Its Shadow, 1932
The Shadow and Its Shadow, 1932, René Magritte: The Revealing Image – Photos and Film at ArtisTree, Taikoo Place


Magritte is half hidden behind his wife Georgette, as in the aforementioned theme of being hidden. Exploring both the notions of revelation and subterfuge, Canonne describes this image as “a photographic painting, an autonomous work that Magritte also eventually had transferred onto canvas, focusing on the theme of the ‘hidden-visible.’”


René Magritte: The Revealing Image – Photos and Films presents an opportunity to see a more personal side to Magritte, explains Canonne, providing a rare glimpse into Magritte the artist – and the person – and “how he formed his own personality, his humour, and the importance of other people on his work.”

Things to ponder as you’re exploring René Magritte: The Revealing Image – Photos and Film at the new ArtisTree:

-       What common tropes and subjects can be found across images in the exhibition?

-       How does photographic documentation help us understand more about Magritte’s artistic process(es)?


The new ArtisTree and Ludion, in collaboration with The Magritte Foundation Belgium, present René Magritte: The Revealing Image – Photos and Films.


19 January – 19 February 2018


See the programme page for more details.



René Magritte painting Clairvoyance, 1936, Jacqueline Nonkels (photographer)
Collection: Charly Herscovici, Europe


The Shadow and Its Shadow (L'ombre et son ombre), 1932. Georgette and René Magritte, Brussels
Collection: Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels


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