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.
lower left: Magritte; upper left reverse: 'La Condition Humaine' 1933
Purchased from the artist by Claude Spaak, Choisel, France; purchased 1987 through (L. & R. Entwhistle & Co., London) by NGA.
- 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.
- Les Tentations de Bosch ou l'Éternel Retour, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, Portugal, 1994, no. 96, repro.
- Magritte, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 1998-1999, no. 13, repro.
- René Magritte 1898-1967, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, 1998, no. 100, repro.
- Magritte, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2000, no. 47, repro.
- Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2002-2003, no. 100, color repro.
- La Révolution surréaliste, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2002, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2006-2007, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- De Chirico, Magritte, Balthus: A Look into the Invisible, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2010, no. 56, repro.
- René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle, Tate Liverpool; Albertina, Vienna, 2011-2012, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Strick, Jeremy. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture: Selections for the Tenth Anniversary of the East Building. Washington, D.C., 1989: repro. 52, 53.
- Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 9, 297, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 262, repro.
- Strick, Jeremey. "Notes on Some Instances of Irony in Modern Pastoral." Studies in the History of Art 36 (1992): 202-203, repro. no. 5.
- Onega, Susana and José Angel García Landa. Narratology: An Introduction, London and New York, 1996: cover, repro.
- Crowther, Paul. The Language of Twentieth-Century Art New Haven and London, 1997: no. 17, repro.
- Kintsch, Walter. Comprehension: A Paradigma for Cognition, 1998, cover, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 424-425, no. 355, color repro.
- Cooper, Harry. The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection: Selected Works. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2009: 24, repro.
- Calabrese, Omar. L'art du trompe-l'oeil. Translated from the Italian by Jean-Philippe Follet. Paris, 345-346, 348, color fig. 270.
- El Mundo Invisible de René Magritte. Exh. cat. Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City. Ghent and Mexico City, 2010: 66 fig. 21.
- Campbell, Stephen J. and Michael W. Cole. Italian Renaissance Art. New York, 2013: 12, color fig. 0.3.