Turned to Stone


La parole donée (The Pledge or The Word Given), René Magritte, 1950

 
 

La parole donnée is part of a series of twenty paintings depicting organic objects turned to stone that René Magritte started in 1950. Sometimes referred to as his “stone age pictures,” these works celebrate Magritte’s love of paradox; the first of these images, for example, depicts a monumental stone chair whose aura of primeval significance is undercut by the minuscule wooden chair that is perched delicately upon its enormous seat. This punning yet eerie transformation of mundane objects through alterations in scale and material also occurs with living things such as a large petrified fish that would undoubtedly sink if plunged into water and the giant stone apple seen here, whose leafy stem underscores both its arrested growth and its incongruous presence amongst forebodingly angular outcroppings of mottled grey stone. Indeed, Magritte regarded the state of petrification as a visual expression of disaster and death. As Abraham Hammacher has stated, “One can trace this preoccupation with a petrified world in all. Magritte’s works Magritte did not regard petrification as a process, but as a kind of catastrophe, like that at Pompeii, when lava transfixed the world and brought all movement to a halt”. As David Sylvester notes, the preternatural calm displayed by these four images possesses an eerie quality, and he has commented that “La parole donnée has the violence of an earthquake at the start of time”.

 
 

From the series The Great Table, c. 1963

 

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