Well we know that a different look changes a work of art.

The viewer substantially changes what he or she sees, according to his or her personality, historical era or circumstances of life at the time of the analysis, even though the work remains the same and does not change materially.

There are cases when the artist produces a new work of art to display his reading of the original work. An extreme and paradoxical, but also paradigmatic case is that of Pierre Menard who, according to Borges, rewrote the Quijote word for word, but nevertheless produced a work absolutely different from that of Cervantes, for how could the same words in the 20th century mean the same than those written at the beginning of the 17th century?

In other cases the new reading considerably distorts the original intention and, with a parodic gesture, questions an essential feature of the work it copies. Such is the case of the portrait of Madame Recamier, painted around 1800 by Jacques-Louis David and “re-read” in 1950 by René Magritte.

Jacques-Louis David: Madame Recamier, 1800. Oil on canvas, 173×243 cm. Paris, Louvre

René Magritte: Perspective I: David’s Madame Recamier, 1950. Oil on canvas, 60×80 cm.
Private collection

The freshness, tenderness and charm of the famous Mme. Recamier is transformed by Magritte in this impossible, rigid and enigmatic coffin which surprises the viewer with its unusual but very real message. The hymn to beauty and youth has become a fatal reminder of death. Magritte has created a particular memento mori reminding us that of the protagonist and of the painter of the picture as well as of all those who knew them, remain but the clothes, furniture and ornaments: this is why the painting is dominated by the receptacle of their final resting place. They themselves, as Góngora would say, have turned “en tierra, en humo, en polvo, en nada” – “into earth, into smoke, into dust, into nothing”.

Apart of this exercise of interpretation, nobody could deny that the image of Magritte is quite disturbing.

A living example for this is my six and a half years old daughter who, after a quarrel and fight with her sister (or viceversa) retired to browse some books that were under the table in the living room. The Taschen volume on Magritte captured her attention and she asked me several times about the meaning of some surrealistic images, but then remained alone with the book

While I was resolving with her sister the homework arrears (delights of the suspension of classes in all schools of Argentina due to influenza A), she called me insistently several times, which I of course did not attend, reminding her in an increasingly annoying tone of the impossibility of ubiquity afflicting us poor mothers. When finally it was her turn, she sat there with the book open at the pages displaying the original painting of David, the response of Magritte and the sculpture of the latter made some years later:

René Magritte: Madame Recamier of David, 1967. Chandelabre, sofa and coffin: 114×188×67 cm. Houston (Texas), courtesy of The Menil Colection

She cannot yet read, so that she could not get more information of the book than what is provided by the three images. Of course she asked me, under the watching eyes of her sister, why that girl was a furniture in the other picture, and what kind of furniture that was…

I do not think one should always tell the truth to the kids, and I often perform the Jesuitic way of lie of not exactly unraveling the scientific details of things. I mean, I told them that the coffin was a “box” (was it not?). They kept on for a little more examining the images and then they forgot the matter.

Or at least that’s what I thought. But that night, as I entered their room, I found this on the small blackboard hanging on the wall:

Mmes Landro: Madame Recamier de Magritte, 2009. Chalk on board, 60 × 43 cm. Buenos Aires, courtesy of the D’Onofrio Collection

5 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

I find it ironic that you speak of "readings distorting the original intention". As I read your blog, for the very first time, it is not until I reach the verbiage which describes yourself as a mother that I realize I was incorrect in mentally assigning a masculine voice in my head to represent your message, which is simply my default behavior, I think (for I am a man myself).

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this entry and struggled to figure out how to leave this comment despite both being slightly drunk and not a fluent Spanish speaker (solamente un poquito :()... Kudos!

Studiolum dijo...

Hi, David. Your first intuition was correct: the main voice of this blog is a masculine one, but some posts – like this one – were written by our guest author Julia (these are always signed by her). As a frequent blog reader, I think a blog immediately reveals the gender of its author; if not, then either it is a very simple blog, or the author is a very complex personality, or else it is written by more than one person, like in this case.

And you’re completely right: reading blogs while being slightly drunks enhances the experience a lot and opens up the doors for new intuitions, and I am really grateful that you took the pain to comment in this blessed condition!

Anónimo dijo...

:) I actually finally finished the blog article (after some distraction -- I am not THAT slow of a reader ;P), and I'm delighted that you responded to my earlier response so quickly!

I can imagine Julia's surprise at her remembering and drawing the artwork (There we go again with derivative perceptions)! It really is amazing how fresh minds process information :)

By the way, Julia is your friend/lover/sister/all-of-the-above(I hope not)?! Just curious!

Your blog looks quite interesting (in glancing your other posts). I shall return in a more sober state and read more! :)

Anónimo dijo... her *daughter's remembering and...*

Studiolum dijo...

You're welcome to the blog in any state. Julia is a friend. If you have a look at the link Authors at the margin ( ) you'll see that while the overwhelming majority of the posts are signed by Studiolum, there are some friends from various countries who also post here sometimes.