BACKGROUND INFO Created in 1933, in Belgium by surrealist painter Rene Magritte When asked about the painting, Magritte said: –“ One night, I woke up in a room in which a cage with a bird sleeping in it had been placed. A magnificent error caused me to see an egg in the cage, instead of the vanished bird … the shock which I experienced had been provoked precisely by the affinity of two objects – the cage and the egg – to each other, whereas previously this shock had been caused by my bringing together two objects that were unrelated. ”
THINGS TO NOTICE There ’ s nothing holding the egg up in the cage: it should be leaning against one of the walls. There is no door anywhere on the cage. Besides, the egg is much too large to have been placed inside the cage from the outside. It is also too large to ever be taken out once it hatches. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Something had to lay the egg, but couldn ’ t have because, not only is the cage too small for anything but the egg, there ’ s no way inside. It ’ s a paradox.
SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN? What could the egg inside the birdcage symbolize? Is it significant that there is no possible exit from the cage? Does the pessimism of the time period (1930s) have anything to do with the metaphor contained in the image?
SO WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN? The unborn egg sits mysteriously in a door-less birdcage it is much too large to have been placed in, and much too large to exit from once it hatches. This was meant to symbolize how, even before they are born, people are trapped in pre-made “ cages. ” Their lives have already been determined by what they are born into — in the 1930s, something that the Great Depression made true. Everyone feels like they have free will, but in reality, they cannot even escape from the cage that surrounds them only millimeters from their skin.
APPEAL What aspect does this painting appeal to the most? (Logos? Ethos? Pathos?) To our logic, what does it represent? To our ethics, what does it challenge/validate? To our emotions, what does it evoke?
AUDIENCE Who was this painting intended for? The general public? Philosophers and scholars? The artist himself? I would say all of the above.
POINT OF VIEW/PERSPECTIVE Rene Magritte created paintings that frequently featured apples, eggs, pipes, birds, and cloth-covered people. Most famous was his Ceci ne pas un … (This is not a … ) series. These images were often intended to challenge the viewer ’ s “ preconditioned perception of reality. ” (The egg in the birdcage does just that.)
POINT OF VIEW/PERSPECTIVE This theme of our “ preconditioned state ” is addressed directly in Elective Affinities. The focus of the image is also the foreground. The simple image of the egg in the birdcage is all that is needed to complete the artist ’ s message. Thus, the background is just empty, yellow space that further isolates the cage.
COMPOSITION? The lighting is completely yellow, giving it the feel of an old, rustic bird cage. The image faces us almost dead-on, the balance provided by the cage ’ s frame gives it an almost symmetrical feel.
DETAIL/AESTHETICS The omission of a door on the cage represents the fact that we can never escape from our destiny. Design elements, including dimension, value, and hue not only define the images, but add more to the symbolism within. All of these help make the cage feel isolated against a hazy, yellow background. The yellow hues that dominate the picture make it feel muted and silent: like an egg.
OVERALL SIGNIFICANCE It makes a strong statement on the notion of free will and fatalism. Through the use of unlike objects, he creates an image that gives us a broader understanding of the world and makes us think about things in a different way.
SOURCES Magritte, Rene. Elective Affinities.1933. Private Collection. 29 Aug. 2009. Other Info: –“ Rene Magritte: Elective Affinities. ” Olga ’ s Gallery. 29 Aug. 2009. – Robin Urton. “ Surrealism. ” Eyeconart. Robin Urton. 4RealArts. 29 Aug. 2009.
SOURCES Adrian Mourby. “ Surreal World: Magritte. ” Bthere. Ink Publishing. 29 Aug. 2009.