About this

Object details

The Sixteenth of September
115 × 88 cm
Inventory number: 
lower right: magritte

More about this work

This is not a tree by moonlight
This later work by Rene Magritte gives a good idea of how the painter went about assembling his surreal images. Behind a lone tree at twilight we see a dark wood and bushes beneath a deep-blue sky.
Magritte then painted a luminous white crescent moon onto the foliage of the tree. The image looks real but is obviously an illusion.
Playing with the tradition of realistic painting to create pictures that are empirically impossible sums up Surrealism à la Magritte. Other Surrealists or Magic Realists – Magritte’s great inspiration Giorgio de Chirico, for instance, or his fellow Belgian Paul Delvaux – imbued reality with an aura of mystery. Not so Magritte, who thought that reality itself was astonishingly absurd.
At first sight, the lone twilit tree and crescent moon in its illogical position, evoke romantic stereotypes.
But Magritte, who made a point of resisting our tendency to interpret images, will have had no such connection in mind. The title plays a key role in this respect. The Sixteenth of September has nothing to do with the ostensible reality of the canvas. According to Magritte himself, ‘the lovely title’ was suggested by his friend Louis Scutenaire, a Belgian Surrealist poet. Magritte and his wife Georgette frequently had their friends around to visit on Sundays, during which they thought up alternative, poetic titles for the artist’s paintings. According to Magritte, they needed to ‘surprise and enchant’.
Physical and technical research shows that there was little improvisation in Magritte’s painting. Each motif was of equal value to him. The crescent moon and the tree in this painting are equal in painterly terms to the stones in the foreground, the bushes and the sky. Magritte felt that this kind of ‘slick’, impersonal execution was the ideal means of ensuring the power of his images. The efficient visual simplicity of his best work also recalls his training as a graphic designer in the advertising industry, in which he worked in the 1920s.
Magritte signed an exclusive contract in the 1950s with the art dealer Alexander Iolas, who promoted his work in the United States and elsewhere. He began to paint a growing number of variations on the same themes, as a result of which at least five versions of The Sixteenth of September exist.

Acquisition history

purchase: René Magritte, 1957

Copyright and legal

© SABAM Belgium 2021. This image may not be downloaded. For professional use or more information, please fill in the contact form. Read more here.