One of my favourite Magritte paintings is The Menaced Assassin, which is the centrepiece of the first room in our exhibition at Tate Liverpool.

Rene Magritte's oil painting The Menaced Assassin.
René Magritte
The Menaced Assassin 1927
Oil on canvas
150.4 x 195.2 cm

Painted in 1927, it presents a macabre yet curiously tranquil murder scene. The body, described by the chief theoretician of the Brussels Surrealists Paul Nougé as ‘a corpse of rare perversity’, is centre-stage with a scarf draped over its neck, its head diabolically severed from the body. We see the murderer pausing to listen to the gramophone, his expression remote and malevolent. Unbeknownst to the murderer are the assailants, two bowler hated men, waiting in the wings. An obsession with violent and sadistic crime - in reality and fiction, was a key Surrealist concern. For example, in Nadja André Breton likens beauty to a series of violent and expulsive shocks, akin to a train erupting from a station.

Still from Louis Feuillade's Fantômas (1913)
Still from Louis Feuillade's Fantômas (1913)

The Surrealists - and Magritte in particular - were fascinated by Fantômas, an elusive arch-villain anti-hero and sociopath who murdered with sadistic ruthlessness. The character became popular in early 1900s through the serialised pulp novels of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. These stories were adapted for film and The Menaced Assassin actually appropriates a still from a 1913 Fantômas film. Many of Magritte’s works draw on the language of cinema in their composition, and through their allusion to cinematic narrative and mood. This relationship is exemplified in The Menaced Assassin. An unusually large painting, we might imagine the image being projected onto the wall, like a painted film-still. Our exhibition also presents a selection of Magritte’s rarely seen home-movies which he began making after buying a super-8 cine camera in 1956. Magritte’s home-movies feature his friends and collaborators, who are sometimes ‘directed’ by the artist.

Magritte Menaced Assassin The Lovers
René Magritte, The Lovers 1928

 Many of Magritte’s most famous images can be read as fantasy scenarios that might unfold like film over time. In particular, his 1960 film Tuba (Interior) re-stages the veiled kissing figures of The Lovers 1928, an image which itself appropriates an image from a ‘Nick Carter’ detective comic. Magritte would later be inspired by caricature and the popular imagination, in particular the comic book imagery of Louis Forton’s Les Pieds Nickelés, which he used when creating his ‘Vache’ works of 1948.

Magritte Menaced Assassin The Ellipsis
René Magritte, The Ellipsis 1928

 Can you think of any other artists who took inspiration from comic book imagery?



Who is it that first made this connection between this Fantomas still-frame and this Magritte painting? I haven't checked, but is it Suzi Gablik, in her 1970 monograph on Magritte? I'd be very keen to know, if you can point me in the direction of a reference, Darren.


the assassins are the super-ego. In opposition to this painting,if you like, is Picasso's 'Nude with green leaves and bust'1932 ,where the fecund female figure inspires or aspires to the two fold expression above her ,nature and culture, good old P. eh always positive about women (yeah yeah she was just 17 ,so many concerned with that gutter press attitude they miss the point.)

Paul Biddle

"The Menaced Assassin. An unusually large painting, we might imagine the image being projected onto the wall, like a painted film-still." - what an interesting idea but I have to say I find the black and white fantoma image so much more menacing.Interestingly in the photograph the woman's head is veiled in shadow- perhaps another reference to his mothers death?


to kill yourself one must be desperate or mad ,doesn't show much respect to harp on about the nightie ?


I have read that Magritte's mother drowned herself at sea and when her body was recovered, a piece of her night gown was covering her face. Maybe ""The Lovers" has some connection/inspiration drawn from this image from his Morher's death?


blimey O' Riley, what is it with men; the dead female the headless thing it castration anxiety or wot?

Dennis Morgan

Jeff Stache is correct regarding the point about Super 8 film.

Jeff Stache

A really fascinating article!

Sorry to pick at insignificant details, but I suspect that his 1956 camera was a regular 8 millimeter (sometimes called "dual 8" since it was really a roll of 16 mm that got split in half). Super 8 didn't come into being till much later, around 1965.


Peter Howson. I see a lot of Batman Bob Kane drawings, especially the use of odd colours and shadow in his work. Mind you,he would probably deny it.


Gavin, sorry for my delay in responding. This is a good question. According to David Sylvester the first person to link the film-still to the painting was José Vovelle, in 'Magritte et le cinéma', Cahiers dada surréalisme, no.4, 1970. I assume that Suzi Gablik saw this when she was preparing her Magritte book. Thanks, Darren


It was the local river, I believe, where she died.