René Magritte was a major figure of surrealism, the European avant-garde movement led by André Breton that revolutionized visual arts and literature between the First and Second World Wars through its investigation of the subconscious, automatism and political ideology. Magritte was deeply involved with the literary surrealists, first in Belgium in 1926 and then, between 1927 and 1930, in Paris. Primarily a painter, he is known for his smooth and precise canvases, which aim to disrupt representational conventions and the relationship between word and text. With frequent reoccurring figures and references to language, literature and philosophy, Magritte’s paintings uncannily and humorously transform familiar objects, like worn boots, a pipe or a birdcage.
A bright world of possibilities, forms and colors unfold in this gouache, whose title — Shéhérazade — references the inventive storyteller and narrator of One Thousand and One Nights. Soon after the Second World War, Magritte painted this and a number of other quickly finished gouaches and oil paintings. In this work, he uses surrealist imagery to mock impressionism, fauvism and, in particular, the figurative style of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Magritte leaves unspecified whether the forms in Shéhérazade are coalescing or disappearing. Whatever the case, this chimera is a figure that inspired Magritte in his approach to representation and to translating the fantastical inventions of the mind into painted forms on canvas or paper. Dealing with modernity and inventing new languages in order for art to think of politics as integral to its making, Magritte’s contribution to the understanding of forms and representation is pioneering and a kind of proto-conceptual art practice.