L’Empire des lumières


René Magritte – L’Empire des lumières – 1953–54

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation 

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.


In Empire of Light (L’Empire des lumières) a dark, nocturnal street scene is set

against a pastel-blue, light-drenched sky spotted with fluffy cumulus clouds. With no

fantastic element other than the single paradoxical combination of day and night,

René Magritte upsets a fundamental organizing premise of life. Sunlight, ordinarily

the source of clarity, here causes the confusion and unease traditionally associated

with darkness. The luminosity of the sky becomes unsettling, making the empty

darkness below even more impenetrable than it would seem in a normal context. The

bizarre subject is treated in an impersonal, precise style, typical of veristic Surrealist

painting and preferred by Magritte since the mid-1920s.

Lucy Flint