Le Viol (The Rape) By René Magritte

“Real things are not the vulgar and easy things of our immediate surroundings. What’s genuinely real, there’s only a certain time when we get that feeling. And that’s what I try to express with my paintings.”

Women are considered to be symbol of life, the maker of unconditional love who is both soft and powerful, practical and spiritual. But in René Magritte’s “Le Voil” (The Rape), he uses a severe and lewd imagery that elucidates the way society objectifies women. It is a straightforward image of a woman’s head with her facial features replaced with those of a woman’s torso. She has breasts in place of eyes, a navel instead of a nose, and the beginning of a pelvis instead of a mouth and a chin. While the painting might be comically appealing, it reveals a sinister side of oppression of women at the time. Magritte once said “In this painting, a woman’s face is made up of the essential features of her body”. Far more suggestive is his blatant cynicism thru the parodic qualities of its surrealist composition and the violence and disgust of the work. This may be identified as a form of unarticulated repressed rage at being subject to fascism, one of the threats that the Surrealists sought to resist throughout the 1930s.

Magritte expressed progressive thoughts saying “The face serves to approach love, but it is embodied in the body. But they love a woman as a whole—both her face and her body. However, in contrast to this, the torso superimposed on the face, not only does not serve to bring spirit in to the carnal principle, but, on the contrary, means the degradation of a woman to the level of the object of sexual desire: the blinded, the dumb and the deaf”.

Beyond the obvious portrayal of an objectified woman, “Le Viol” was rumored to include some slight parallels to Magritte’s own life. It was attributed to the death of his mother who committed suicide by jumping and drowning herself in the Sambre River. When authorities found her body, she was completely naked except for her face which was covered by her tangled nightgown. The young Magritte bore witness to this tragic event which manifested in his works of art where women were completely bare and exposed except for their faces.

Le Viol (The Rape) René Magritte Oil on canvas 1934 28 7/8 × 21 ½ inches