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The Sixteenth of September

René Magritte
  • Object number 2843
  • Date (1956)
  • Dimensions 115 x 88 cm
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Copyright © SABAM
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Schilderij Zestien september van René Magritte

René Magritte’s The Sixteenth of September

Twilight. Night is falling. The world takes shape as dark silhouettes against the sky. A mysterious moment. Magritte has absolutely captured the feeling of it. Weirdly, the crescent moon appears in front of the tree and not in the sky, making this scene everyday and impossible at the same time. It is precisely this that makes The Sixteenth of September so unsettling. Moon and tree dominate the image. Magritte depicts them both straightforwardly. Together with the rocks at the foot of the tree, the bushes and the sky. His images assume additional power in this way.

Mysterious Magritte at the KMSKA

The crescent moon is a recurring theme in the works of René Magritte. Along with hats, birds and apples. The way the artist combined them is as striking as ever. The titles of his works are intriguing too. They weren’t meant to be explanatory. On the contrary: they served to heighten the mystery. It was Magritte’s close friend, the poet Louis Scutenaire, who came up with the title The Sixteenth of September for this work. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp purchased the canvas directly from the painter.

Master of Surrealism

René Magritte trained as a painter the traditional way at the Academy in Brussels. He wasn’t exactly a natural: it was only when he immersed himself in Parisian Surrealism that he truly shone for the first time. Magritte became a master at painting enigmas. He liked to confront his viewers with art that disrupts reality and awakens our minds. There’s always something to give us a jolt. The Sixteenth of September is a later work by Magritte. Yet the way he composes his surrealist images is as distinctive as ever.

Magritte: cuckoo’s egg in Paris

Clear outlines and flat images: this is how we characterize Magritte’s style. It recalls magazine illustrations, a key source of inspiration for the Surrealists. All the same, he was less radical than his French counterparts. His work is more reminiscent of the magical realism that was popular in the Netherlands and Germany at the time. Magritte combined everyday motifs, objects, characters and situations in something like a collage. He then carefully worked out the image. There was barely any question of improvisation. The French Surrealists called him a ‘cuckoo’s egg’ because of his lack of Surrealist orthodoxy.

Visual effects to confront viewer

Magritte created several variations on The Sixteenth of September. Paintings, lithographs and prints. Each centres on a tree at dusk. By depicting the crescent moon ‘on’ the tree, Magritte disrupts the natural order of things. The result is a disconcerting visual effect. The image affects our sense of reality. It evokes the great question of life: ‘Who are we?’

Ceci n’est pas un peintre

Magritte was not only a painter in the 1920s. He also worked as a draughtsman at a wallpaper factory. And he designed advertisements too. This is not really so surprising: the visual simplicity and efficiency that were Magritte’s trademarks are the same things a graphic designer seeks to achieve.

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