Disclaimer: I don’t know much about art and I’m learning astrology. Inputs welcome.
Some first encounters are memorable. I first met René Magritte on the cover of my experimental psychology textbook. The painting, Not to be Reproduced, remains my favorite to this day. A few years after that first encounter, I came across a postcard of Time Transfixed. It was then that I knew: I loved this man’s work. I never thought about classifying it but I eventually learnt that he was a “surrealist” artist. But I’ve found that unlike many of surrealists, Magritte’s work has a unique quality of purity. You can probably see it in all his paintings, but I see most clearly in the painfully straight lines of Time Transfixed.
I’ve never tried to figure out or question Not to be Reproduced. I see it and time stops. For a while, everything is suspended. Is there a word for this feeling? I know “numinous” is not quite it. It’s like a gentle happy awe. As I struggle to explain what I mean, you can see the Virgo Mercury trying to grasp something Neptunian in words and failing. This is what Magritte himself said about his work, “My painting is visible images which conceal nothing… they evoke mystery and indeed when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question ‘What does that mean’? It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.” Very Neptune that. Coming from a man who is a master of his craft: just look at those lines!
I thought it would be interesting to look at his chart and obtained his birth data from here. I expected to find Neptune, of course; but also Virgo. The former is evident everywhere: It conjuncts Pluto, opposes Venus and Mercury. But I didn’t find the Virgo emphasis I was looking for. He does have a Virgo MC, though, with Mercury ruling his career and conjuncting Venus and Saturn. Saturn, the hard taskmaster that he is, is probably responsible for the mastery evident in his work and helped him achieve the unique purity of style that characterize it.
Although I hadn’t meant to look at his personal life, it’s hard to miss the Saturn opposition Neptune, with Pisces as IC. It foreshadows a tragedy in his domestic life, probably to do with a parent: when he was 14, his mother committed suicide by drowning. Natally, Magritte’s Saturn opposes both Neptune and Pluto (ruler of the twelfth house). This opposition of Saturn (reality) against Neptune (illusion) is best expressed in his Ceci n’est pas series. But, really, the essence of this aspect infuses the entire body of his work. This is what Wikipedia has to say (note the words I’ve put in bold):
Magritte’s constant play with reality and illusion has been attributed to the early death of his mother. Psychoanalysts who have examined bereaved children have said that Magritte’s back and forth play with reality and illusion reflects his “constant shifting back and forth from what he wishes—’mother is alive’—to what he knows—’mother is dead’.”
He described the act of painting as “the art of putting colors side by side in such a way that their real aspect is effaced, so that familiar objects—the sky, people, trees, mountains, furniture, the stars, solid structures, graffiti—become united in a single poetically disciplined image. The poetry of this image dispenses with any symbolic significance, old or new.
A person’s philosophy is captured by the ninth house and Magritte’s ninth house ruler is the Sun. His Sun is in the twelfth, a house that brings to mind words like infinite, ineffable, unfathomable, spirit, God, divine. And I like to believe that when he painted and when he said, “…mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable,” he said it from a place of peace that the twelfth can bring if you surrender to God or the divine which is, for most of us, the Great Unknowable.