The first painting you see when you enter the Magritte exhibition at Tate Liverpool is One-night Museum 1927.

René Magritte One-night Museum 1927
René Magritte
One-night Museum

It’s one of my favourite works by Magritte. One-night  Museum articulates one of Magritte’s key artistic concerns, namely to test the world of appearances. The painting makes especially effective use of trompe-l’oeil, an illusionistic device often used by Magritte, evident in his staple imagery of tears in paper, wood-grain, marble, or frames within frames. I think he was attracted to trompe-l’oeil because it revealed the deception of conventional representation, emphasising the fundamental artificiality of the image. As Richard Calvocoressi pointed out, ‘there are plenty of occasions when Magritte reminds us of his taste for trompe-l’oeil decoration … prompting him to ask ‘Is it real or fake?’ – a question which has little meaning within the context of painting.’

The painting has a compartmentalised composition and proffers a random display of objects. The structure of the image might suggest dialogues between each of the items depicted. However, despite the ‘rational’ structure, the relationship between each of the objects is entirely arbitrary. In fact, Magritte’s repertoire of familiar standardised objects – pipes, apples and the like – were chosen and depicted in painting not because they were inherently meaningful, but because he wanted to emphasise their status as ordinary everyday objects.

Magritte The Treachery of Images Pipe
We've seen lots of Tweets inspired by this work!

As in many of his paintings, Magritte evokes mystery by using a veiling device, concealing the contents of the bottom-right compartment behind a paper cut screen. Any narrative reading of the composition is denied. Read as a whole, it offers a pictorial statement that is emblematic of his entire oeuvre. In One-nightMuseumeverything conspires to confound our expectations, revealing the treachery of images.

Darren Pih is Exhibitions and Displays Curator at Tate Liverpool, and co-curator of René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle.


Anja Weber

This is not a Pipe..famous painting is Magritte's visual critique of language, by this he is confronting them..What does it mean to write This is not a pipe across the bluntly literal painting of it?Magritte disliked being called the artist, preferring to be a considered as thinker ho communicated by means of paint.Relationship between words and things was precisely the theme of so many of Magritte works,explored with disorienting effect.

Colin Sara

As a visiting southerner it was great to see the Albert Dock and Tate Liverpool full and thriving and hosting such an important exhibition. The exhibition seemed to be in too halves, suddenly freed in the second half into the fresh air after the first half of obfuscation. He took a simple idea, like the irony of a painting of a painting of a view, a comment on the difference between art and life, or the way we look at women's bodies, or the difference between day and night and put these ideas into really beautiful, technically excellent paintins, instead of trying to seduce us with mystery or dreams. So what about the pipe? Well, it isn't a pipe, is it, it's a painting of a pipe. So why not write "pipe" on a canvas and leave the viewer to imagine it? He tried that (or at least "cloud"), but I don't think it worked as well as the painting of a pipe. And why a pipe? You may well ask. "Tot homines, quot sententiae". Try painting that!