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Empire of Light (& Knowledge)

Walking past Baker Berry Library at Dartmouth, this image reminded me of Magritte‘s Empire of Light (L’Empire des lumières), 1953–54.

In Empire of Light, numerous versions of which exist (see, for example, those at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels), 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

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