Saturday, October 13, 2018

Empire of Light, Part 2

Here's another early-morning shot from my neighborhood, taken when the streets are quiet and the day is balanced on the cusp of dawn. This photo and the one I posted two days ago both remind me of Rene Magritte's "Empire of Light" paintings:

I remember seeing this painting at MoMA, I believe, many years ago and loving it. Something about that magical time of early morning or late evening, and the perfect glow of that lonely streetlight, is really captivating. It's one of a few Magritte paintings depicting this theme.

I've read that the paintings supposedly create an unsettled feeling in the viewer by showing a nighttime street against a daytime sky. The scholarly conclusion seems to be that these two phenomena can't coexist in real life, creating conflict and possibly representing some sort of moral or philosophical conundrum. I'm not so sure, though. I've always found "The Empire of Light" peaceful and soothing, and as my photo shows, day and night can in fact coexist, briefly.

The only element that seems menacing to me is the tall building (or water tower or something) at left, an architecturally Brutalist disruption of the otherwise natural border between treeline and clouds.

(I compared one of my photos to this painting once before, way back in 2010. But that photo was taken at night, which, in retrospect, misses the point of the painting.)

Here's the Waterlogue version of my shot. Not terrible, but hardly Magritte. Which once again proves that even the most remarkable phone app can't replace the genius of human intention in art!


  1. I like the way that Magritte's lamppost casts a magical glow upon the pavement - or what some people would call the footpath.

  2. the 'scholarly conclusion' is why I didn't care for art history, some person pontificating about what a dead for 200 years artist meant when s/he painted the picture. Magritte is one of my favorite artists. I had a softcover book of his paintings (lost in the flood) that I kept on the coffee table and it was also a favorite of all the grandchildren to look through, I suppose because the images were so...strange, for lack of a better word.

  3. I love seeing that Magritte painting and considering the dark street against the bright blue sky. I often see light in the morning like that, as well as in the evening. Earth rolling toward and away from the sun is a great palette, humans will make of it what they will.

  4. I don't think I've ever seen that painting before, not even at the special Magritte show I saw in Chicago around 4 years ago. I'll be in New York next week so I think I'll look for it at MoMA. I like your photo also. I love that almost daylight feeling. I do like the artistic version but it doesn't have that same feel.

  5. Such cool commentary, Steve! I, too, find the Magritte painting soothing -- but I've always found conflict or ambiguity soothing in a weird kind of way. It makes my own problems and issues seem insignificant.

  6. YP: Oh, geez. How many Britishisms do I have to learn here?

    Ms. Moon: Thanks!

    Ellen: I agree -- the analysis can go overboard. I always think of Georgia O'Keeffe, who scoffed at the suggestion that her flower paintings were meant to be sexual. She said that interpretation was more about the viewer than her art. (Personally I think she was also in denial.)

    Robin: It is one of the best times of day for photography!

    Catalyst: Indeed!

    Sharon: Yes, look for it in MoMA's permanent collection. I'm pretty sure it's theirs. I'm surprised there were no paintings from that series at the exhibit you saw -- they're pretty well known, though not as famous as the man with the apple!

    Elizabeth: I agree about ambiguity. It can be comforting to rest in the grey zone of "no right answer."

  7. Actually that painting does unsettle me when I look closely. It’s a night street and a noonday sky, whereas your photo is more in harmony, the street not quite inky night, the sky heading toward twilight. Interesting! I never contemplated that painting so deeply till now.