la carte postale by rene magritte

This paper will discuss the painting “La Carte Postale” by Rene Magritte. It will compare and contract the primary relationships of focusing and scanning, position versus movement, organic versus geometric, high definition versus low definition and formal versus informal relationships as the basis for analysis. “La Carte Postale” is a formal painting with a strong sense of position. This paper will support this and suggest in detail that it is formal because Magritte has made a strong emphasis on position, focus and planning involved in the design process of the primary object of the painting.

Yet at the same time Magritte has used the interplay of other primary relationships such as high and low definition, light and dark, focus and scanning in the middle and background. In theory if a painting suggests itself to be formal, it will have a strong emphasis on position, focus and planning (3). It will also have a strong central axis. This painting has a strong central axis going directly through the apple and the man. You can imagine the central vertical axis going down through his spine. By looking at this we can conclude one theme in the analysis of “La Carte Postale” by Rene Magritte that is it a formal painting.

The primary focus of this painting is the apple located in the top central area of the image. The apple lies on a both a central horizontal and a central vertical axis. Although the apple is an organic item, it is nearly a perfect circle lending to the interplay of geometric and organic relationships. The man and the apple are an example of the juxtaposition of objects (4). The apple is the focal point of this painting and this lends to the idea of a strong sense of position. Because of the size of the apple, Magritte has used position as the single most important interplay of primary elationships. When a viewer looks at this painting the eye focuses in on the apple. Although there is some scanning involved in the middle and back ground the primary focus is the position of the apple. Magritte has used some movement in the background which is also in low definition, darker hues and with soft edges or use of “sphumato”. Magritte uses both organic and geometric characteristics fairly equally in this painting. As stated before, that although the apple is an organic item, it is nearly a perfect circle therefore suggesting it has a more geometric relationship in the painting.

In analysis of the primary relationships of organic versus geometric we would conclude this painting to be a balance and interplay of both. If we are thinking of the apple as content, we would think of it as an apple, that being food and organic, yet the form is a circle, and this leads us into the next set of primary relationships in art: Form versus Content. When discussing the primary relationships in art, specifically when comparing the relationship of form versus content we are discussing the difference between the subject, being the content, and the shape such as the apple is a circle, being the form.

It doesn’t make sense to the viewer for an apple to be placed in the center of a painting as this one is. It creates ambiguity in interpretation. It assumes dominance in the painting, one because of its size and because of its color. When compared to the rest of the painting it is brighter and less muted. This involves and interplay of light and dark as well as high and low definition throughout the form and content interplay. The apple is a formal geometric subject in high definition. It is ambiguous as to which the apple represents, form or content.

Ideally based on the tenets of surrealism, we would tend to believe the apple as a symbol of an idea versus the shape of it as a circle yet again Magritte has made it a nearly perfect circle. This ambiguity is a great moment of combinatory play in art. The infamous apple is the primary focus of this painting, it is higher definition from the rest of the painting and also brighter. High and low definition techniques are both used in the painting. The apple has sharper edges while the mountains in the back ground have softer edges.

Magritte has balanced the interplay of high and low definition. Another balanced primary relationship is that of the use of light and dark. The apple is bright, the mountains and all other parts of the painting including the man are muted and darker. Magritte again has incorporated a balanced use of light and dark int this painting. His darker hues have softer edges, his lighter hues sharper edges. The apple brighter with sharper edges, being the focal point on a strong central axis lends itself to the theme of position while the background is more informal and suggesting movement.

The design and placement of the apple creates cathexis in the painting. The viewer spends a large amount of time and psychological energy on this component of the painting (3). Some questions one might face when seeing this painting could include asking if the apple is symbolic of the sun? One could also ask is it symbolic of an idea. As we have read about Magritte and his life we could deduce many symbolic interpretations of the apple and the man at the edge of a wall. Or is this an expression of the tenets of surrealism?

Magritte’s La Carte Postale includes strong tenets of surrealism including the altering sizes in relationships, rejection rational approaches, and the use of combinatory play to increase tension for the viewer. This paper has discussed the use primary relationships in the analysis of La Carte Postale by Rene Magritte. The strongest being position. Magritte emphasized position as a central component to the design process and placement of the apple. The center of this painting would lend itself to being formal and in high focus, with a strong sense of position, and in high definition.

While the background and middle ground is lower definition and less formal. In the foreground there is no central focal point and the eye tends to scan the middle and back ground. This can create a relationship to movement, such as the rolling hills in the background or the wisps of clouds in the sky. This paper also analyzed the interplay of organic and geometric, and the attributes of form versus content. The central image of the apple as an organic item yet a merely perfect circle creates an ambiguous relationship for the viewer to interpret it as an apple of a symbol of an idea that the apple stands for.

This is combinatory play of form and content as well. The form is a circle, the content is an apple or the idea the apple symbolizes. Magritte has established a strong example of a Surrealist painting in “La Carte Postale” as evidence by the analysis using the primary relationships in art and the tenets of Surrealism.


1. Barrett, T. (2003). INTERPRETING ART: Reflecting, Wondering, and Responding (Book). Pages 2-12;21;25-28; 33;89 2. Gablik, Suzi. Magritte. (1985). Pages 183-187 3. Paratore, Philip. Handouts. 2012 LCC250g 4. http://www. surrealism. org/magritte. html 5. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Magritte

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