Overview

Two of Magritte's favored themes were the "window painting" and the "painting within a painting." The Human Condition is one of Magritte's earliest treatments of either subject, and in it he combines the two, making what may be his most subtle and profound statement of their shared meaning.

The Human Condition displays an easel placed inside a room and in front of a window. The easel holds an unframed painting of a landscape that seems in every detail contiguous with the landscape seen outside the window. At first, one automatically assumes that the painting on the easel depicts the portion of the landscape outside the window that it hides from view. After a moment's consideration, however, one realizes that this assumption is based upon a false premise: that is, that the imagery of Magritte's painting is real, while the painting on the easel is a representation of that reality. In fact, there is no difference between them. Both are part of the same painting, the same artistic fabrication. It is perhaps to this repeating cycle, in which the viewer, even against his will, sees the one as real and the other as representation, that Magritte's title makes reference.

Inscription

lower left: Magritte; upper left reverse: 'La Condition Humaine' 1933

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Purchased from the artist by Claude Spaak, Choisel, France; purchased 1987 through (L. & R. Entwhistle & Co., London) by NGA.

Exhibition History
1992
Magritte, The Hayward Gallery, The South Bank Centre, London; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Menil Collection, Houston; The Art Institute of Chicago, 1992-1993, no. 62, 15, 41, repro.
1994
Les Tentations de Bosch ou l'Éternel Retour, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, Portugal, 1994, no. 96, repro.
1998
Magritte, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 1998-1999, no. 13, repro.
1998
René Magritte 1898-1967, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, 1998, no. 100, repro.
2000
Magritte, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2000, no. 47, repro.
2002
Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2002-2003, no. 100, color repro.
2002
La Révolution surréaliste, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2002, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
2006
Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2006-2007, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
2010
De Chirico, Magritte, Balthus: A Look into the Invisible, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2010, no. 56, repro.
2011
René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle, Tate Liverpool; Albertina, Vienna, 2011-2012, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
Bibliography
1989
Strick, Jeremy. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture: Selections for the Tenth Anniversary of the East Building. Washington, D.C., 1989: repro. 52, 53.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 9, 297, color repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 262, repro.
1992
Strick, Jeremey. "Notes on Some Instances of Irony in Modern Pastoral." Studies in the History of Art 36 (1992): 202-203, repro. no. 5.
1996
Onega, Susana and José Angel García Landa. Narratology: An Introduction, London and New York, 1996: cover, repro.
1997
Crowther, Paul. The Language of Twentieth-Century Art New Haven and London, 1997: no. 17, repro.
1998
Kintsch, Walter. Comprehension: A Paradigma for Cognition, 1998, cover, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 424-425, no. 355, color repro.
2009
Cooper, Harry. The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection: Selected Works. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2009: 24, repro.
2010
Calabrese, Omar. L'art du trompe-l'oeil. Translated from the Italian by Jean-Philippe Follet. Paris, 345-346, 348, color fig. 270.
2010
El Mundo Invisible de René Magritte. Exh. cat. Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City. Ghent and Mexico City, 2010: 66 fig. 21.
2013
Campbell, Stephen J. and Michael W. Cole. Italian Renaissance Art. New York, 2013: 12, color fig. 0.3.
Technical Summary