Surrealism and chance in “The Rape”, 1935 by Rene Magritte

Rape (Le Viol), 1935 by Rene Magritte

Rene Magritte was a surrealist artist from Belgium, whose work was well known for its thought-provoking and witty nature. He challenged his audience’s perception of reality. The Rape was painted in 1935 and is considered highly controversial. 

According to the reading, Dada and Chance, the central component of chance is taking one thing out of context and placing it into another context, demonstrating how meaning is fixed to a site and how meaning is unfixed when location is changed. In this painting, Magritte has destroyed what is most evident of all, namely the face, replacing it with something even more obvious. It is the shock effect of the picture together with the basic idea lying behind it. The Rape is the perfect example of showing how chance is applied, by replacing the banal parts with something controversial, it raises the question for people of—what does the object mean in its new situation? What does this word mean now that it has been torn out of context?

While some people found the painting humorous, some were also deeply bothered by one man’s view (Magritte) of a woman, one that strips her of her identity and also questioned whether the head depicted need necessarily be that of a female.  These very different reactions to the same image proclaim the paradigm of art, which a work of art speaks differently to everyone.

Below is an interpretation of the painting by Susan Gubar from her article “Representing Pornography: Feminism, Criticism, and Depictions of Female Violation” (1987, pg. 722).

Endowed with blind nipples replacing eyes, a belly button where her nose should be, and a vulva for a mouth, the female face is erased by the female torso imposed upon it, as if Magritte were suggesting that anatomy is bound to be her destiny. That the face associated with the body is sightless, senseless, and dumb implies, too, that Magritte may be subscribing to the view of one of William Faulkner’s fictional surrogates, a man who celebrates the feminine ideal as “a virgin with no legs to leave me, no arms to hold me, no head to talk to me” and who therefore goes on to define woman generically as “merely [an] articulated genital organ.”

The meaning behind this artwork is overwhelmingly obvious: the overlay of a female torso onto a woman’s face exemplifies the way in which we as a society objectify women. More specifically Magritte is showing that men see women only for their bodies. The Rape takes a face, the first thing one usually sees of another person and turns it into a sexual image. The eyes are said to be the window of the soul, and by taking them away, the woman becomes a body without a soul. Magritte has shown that women are seen solely as faceless sexual objects and not as people.

A deeper analysis of The Rape points to another striking aspect of the work that is less distinct but highly controversial. The way the head and neck have been painted, they seem relatively flat, and the hair also seems unnatural. Magritte has painted a double meaning into this work, one that is harder to determine and takes a bit of time to see and comprehend. The flat head and neck are representative of male genitalia, and the hair has the appearance of pubic hair. With the head and neck merging into the hair, Magritte has painted the act of rape itself.

One thought on “Surrealism and chance in “The Rape”, 1935 by Rene Magritte”

  1. Jade, yes, nice job – very disturbing painting and glad you found several interpretations to explore. the surrealists did not have many women in their movement.. quite a boy’s club. whereas in Dada clubs, many women (often partners of the male key figures were actively participating as artists. I am not sure why. and I am sure there are numerous PhD theses on this!

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