The Dominion of Light
(known as L'Empire des Lumieres
in the artist's native French) is a cycle of paintings
by surrealist Rene Magritte
which were completed between 1949 and 1964. Sources vary on the number of works in the cycle, with 50% polled claiming sixteen and the other 50% claiming twenty-six. I'm inclined to believe the former but have been unable to confirm either.
The subject matter of the paintings is essentially the same in all of them. A single streetlight shines in front of a night-darkened house, illuminating the door. A group of windows in the house are lit from within, but no occupants are visible. Shadow-trees reach for the sky, but the sky above them is bright daylight blue and has fluffy, Magritte cumulus clouds floating in it. Day above, night below. The paintings vary in the level of detail visible in the dark portions and the placement of the elements within the composition. But house, streetlight, window, tree and blue sky are always there.
Juxtaposition is a hallmark of surrealism, so the very fact of it is no particular surprise. But, as usual, the device raises the question: "what does it mean?". Lifetimes can be spent arguing the point. Is it simply an interesting image, with the beginning and ending of the meaning simply what emotions it evokes? Or is there a heady intellectual interplay of symbolism, art history, dream logic and iconoclasm on that canvas? It's the beauty of the open-ended question. After all, this is not a pipe.
I've chosen to live with a print of one of these paintings for approximately eight years. I've put it up everywhere I've lived; it's outlasted posters of bands, movies and attractive people. The image has longevity precisely because of its uncertainty; that rectangle on my wall is like a window, a fixed view with infinitely variable content.