Rene Magritte was a Surrealist artist from Belgium who became well known for his whimsical compositions and bright saturated colors. A recurring motif of birds can be seen throughout his career, often using the silhouette of a bird taking flight. Magritte, like many of the Surrealists of his time, liked to play with the viewer’s sense of reality, using ordinary objects in unorthodox ways. 

Rene Magritte, Le Retour.

In Magritte’s 1940 painting Le Retour (The Return), the artist uses a large silhouette of a flying bird to help display both night and daytime skies. A blue sky with clouds fills the shape of the bird shown flying through the starry night sky around it. Below is a small bird’s nest with three eggs. Magritte used bird imagery in this way in many paintings, utilizing the recognizable outline as a device for other visual information. 

Magritte, Le printemps (Spring)

Another example is Le printemps (Spring), a very similar composition of a soaring bird flying over a nest of three eggs. In this case, Magritte chooses to fill the bird with the same pattern of vegetation it flies over. The contrast of the greenery with the blue sky is quite arresting and very alluring to the eye of the viewer, and is a testament to Magritte’s creative imagination. Author of “Magritte,” Jaques Meuris states, “Here the bird, consisting of trees and leaves, looks like a delicate Savonnerie tapestry. It is shown gliding above a wood of the same trees and leaves and above a nest lying on a low stone wall. The nest contains three eggs, yet talk of “the fertility of springtime” is facile in this instance. A more striking feature is the repetition of the same motive (branches and foliage) in two objects that move in quite different ways, as if establishing a two-way visual and mental connection between the bird and the wood” (pg. 170).

Magritte, L’entree en scene (The emergence)

L’entree en scene (The emergence) uses the same artistic device as Le Retour, the shape of a soaring bird filled with the bright sunny sky of day while flying through the stars and darkness of the night. The contrast again between the visual information of the inside of the bird against its surroundings is thought provoking and striking. Magritte uses birds as symbols of flight and motion, yet he fills them with objects at odds with these concepts, again challenging the viewer’s ideas about the world around them.