Belgian painter Rene Magritte forged a reputation for wit and whimsy, but none of his works captured the world’s imagination as intensely as The Son of Man. Even viewers who don't know it by name instantly recognize the surrealist landmark, but there's much more to know about this famous painting and how it fits into Magritte's works as a whole.
1. The Son of Man is a self portrait.
The man behind that floating apple and beneath that bowler is none other than Magritte. If you look closely, you can see his eyes peeking out between the apple and its leaves.
2. It's not Magritte's only apple-centric painting, just his most famous.
3. The Bowler hat is also a recurring feature.
4. The Son of Man is part of a series.
The oil painting is often grouped with two other works that were also created in 1964. The first is Magritte's Man in the Bowler Hat, which has a similar figure whose face is obscured by a passing bird. The second is The Great War of the Facades, which depicts an elegantly dressed woman in a similar seaside setting with blossoming flowers blocking her face. Juxtaposing ordinary elements in unusual ways was a key theme in Magritte's works.
5. The Son of Man most closely resembles The Taste of The Invisible.
Another painting from 1964, it contains the same bowler-topped dapper gent, complete with red tie, black coat, and green apple. But this variation is far less known, and not generally mentioned in connection with its apparent sister pieces.
6. Some CRITICS believe The Son of Man is a religious painting.
Though the imagery of a modern man and a floating apple near the sea doesn't immediately suggest religious iconography, the title Son of Man does. In the Christian faith, the phrase "Son of Man" refers to Jesus, so some analysts view Magritte's painting as a surrealist depiction of Jesus's transfiguration.
7. Magritte's explanation was more oblique.
Of The Son of Man, he said, "At least it hides the face partly. Well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It's something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present."
8. Norman Rockwell paid homage to The Son of Man.
Rockwell's signature style was anything but surreal, but in 1970 he tried his hand at Magritte's milieu with Mr. Apple. When this painting was put up for auction in 2011, the artist’s letters about its creation were on the block as well.
They read in part, "I must tell you that I got the two apples, and I haven’t eaten them, but I have put them in the refrigerator so they will keep bright and shiny … It will be fun doing such a unique painting." And “Dear Mr. Blum – Here it is! I really enjoyed painting Mr. Apple. I sure hope you like it. The painting may still be wet when you get it. But do not varnish it for a couple of months. If you use a fine mastic varnish it will preserve it forever. Cordially, Norman Rockwell.”
9. Rockwell wasn't the only one inspired to homage.
Allusions or copies of Magritte's most iconic piece have popped up in movies (Stranger Than Fiction, Bronson, The Thomas Crown Affair), books (Lev Grossman's The Magicians, Jimmy Liao's The Starry Starry Night), TV shows (The Simpsons, The Voice) and music videos (Michael Jackson's "Scream" and Yes's "Astral Traveller").
10. It's rare to see the real Son of Man.
Although prints of the piece are popular and readily available, the actual painting is privately owned and rarely goes on display for the public. The Son Of Man was last spotted in the fall of 2011 in Montreal's LHotel’s lounge.