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Treachery of Images

The Treachery of Images

The Treachery of Images (La trahison des images 1928–29) is a series of paintings by Belgian Surrealist painter René Magritte, famous for its inscription Ceci n'est pas une pipe French for this is not a pipe. The paintings are currently housed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Los Angeles, California and at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas.

The picture shows a pipe that looks as though it might come from a tobacco store advertisement. Magritte painted below the pipe: "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe), which seems a contradiction but is actually true. The painting is not a pipe, but rather an image of a pipe. As Magritte himself commented: "The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe,’ I’d have been lying!" (cited in Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, p. 71.)

Magritte extends the style and effect in his 1930 painting The Key of Dreams.

In popular culture

Countless other works of art or entertainment have made use of the phrase "Ceci n'est pas...", a translation, or a variation on the concept of the difference between an image and a symbol, one example being The Simpsons couch gag for the season nineteen episode "That 90's Show" where The Simpsons are seated on the couch with the caption, "Ceci n'est pas une couch gag". "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" is also the name of a level in Lemmings 2.

Literary and cultural criticism

French literary critic and philosopher Michel Foucault discusses the painting and its paradox in his 1973 book, This is not a Pipe (English edition, 1991).

In Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, the painting is used as an introduction to the second chapter. McCloud points out that not only is the version that appears in his book not a pipe; it is several printed copies of a drawing of a painting of a pipe.

Douglas Hofstadter also discusses this painting and other images like it in his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, a treatise on formal systems and intelligence.

See also

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