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Viederman, M. (1987). René Magritte: Coping with Loss—Reality and Illusion. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 35:967-998.

(1987). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 35:967-998

René Magritte: Coping with Loss—Reality and Illusion

Milton Viederman, M.D.


René Magritte was profoundly influenced in his painterly style and in the content of many of his paintings by his mother's suicide when he was fourteen. This paper explores the influence of this traumatic event on his work. My thesis is that the nighttime suicide of Magritte's mother by drowning: (1) had a profound impact on the form and style of his paintings; (2) his paintings represented an effort, mostly successful, to contain and master through intellectual control with isolation of affect the trauma of this experience, which must at the time have evoked helplessness and despair; (3) the contents of a series of his paintings directly reconstruct the traumatic experience under control and in the service of mastery; and (4) there are paintings, mostly painted at the time he clearly developed his own style (1926-1930), that reveal a breakthrough of projected primitive aggressive impulses and unconscious representations of the aggressive mother. In these latter paintings, both form and content are dramatically different from the main corpus of Magritte's work.

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