Rene Magritte was a surrealist artist from Belgium, whose work was well know for its thought provoking and witty nature. He challenged his audience’s perception of reality. Le Viol (aka The Rape) was painted in 1935, and is considered highly controversial. The Rape is a simple image of a woman’s head, but the facial features have been 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 chin. Magritte used this kind of severe and lewd imagery in order to very directly express his point.
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. This signifies that when looking at a woman, a man is not seeing her face, but rather her body. The eyes are said to be the window o 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.
Magritte has made an “ideal” woman. With breasts instead of eyes, she is blind. With a belly button instead of a nose, she cannot smell. With a pelvic area instead of a mouth, she cannot speak. He has created a woman that is senseless and voiceless, and thus a woman that has no presence. She exists solely as a body meant to satisfy mans most primal desire.
Beyond the obvious portrayal of an objectified woman, The Rape includes some slight parallels to Magritte’s own life. When he was 13, Magritte’s mother committed suicide by jumping into and drowning herself in the Sambre River. Apparently, this was not the first time she had attempted to take her own life and she had been self-harming for several years. A few days after she was reported missing, her body was found a mile down the river. When authorities pulled her out of the water she was completely naked, except for her face, which was covered by her tangled nightgown. Young Magritte bore witness to the event, and aspects of her death often appear in his works of art. Women, completely bare and exposed, except for their faces.
Magritte’s main goal with his art was to shock the audience into deliberation and action against what they considered to be normal, and The Rape did just that. Deeper analysis of The Rape points to another rather 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.
As an artist he wanted to frighten and provoke people, and this painting accomplished that. Upon this realization an observer becomes even more uncomfortable than they were before. The heinous act of rape is right before your eyes, and the most disturbing part is the amount of time and thought that goes into figuring this out. Magritte causes you to think about what you are seeing and what it could possibly mean. He forces you to work to understand what you are seeing, and when you come into the knowledge that you are viewing the act of rape itself, you cannot deny or unsee it.