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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

The Murderer Threatened (L’assassin Menacé)

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(8):882-883. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.64.8.882.
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On February 24, 1912, 40-year-old Regina Magritte, mother of 14-year-old René Magritte (1898-1967), drowned herself in the Sambre river in Châtelet, Belgium.2(p8) She found the key to her locked bedroom in the early morning hours, walked to the bridge over the river near their home, and jumped to her death. Prone to depression, she had made previous suicide attempts, leading her husband to lock her into her bedroom at night with their youngest son Paul sharing the room with her. When Paul found her missing that morning, he alerted the family, who traced her footprints as far as the bridge. Seventeen days later, on March 12, her body was discovered about 1 km down the river from the bridge near a slag heap (reportedly with her nightgown wrapped around her head, concealing her face), and brought to their home overnight prior to burial. Magritte's wife, who first met him the year after his mother's death, confirmed that he rarely, if ever, spoke about his mother's death to others, not even to her.2(p9) Years later, when asked by his biographer about her death, Magritte said that his only remembrance was, “he imagined, a certain pride at being the center of attention in a drama . . . he was the son of the ‘dead woman.’”3(p19) Magritte's earliest surrealistic paintings suggest that the psychological impact of the events surrounding his mother's death were substantially greater than he was willing to acknowledge.

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René Magritte (1898-1967), Belgian. The Murderer Threatened (L'assassin Menacé), 1926. Oil on canvas, 59¼ × 76⅞ in (150.4 × 195.2 cm). Kay Sage Tanguy Fund (247.1966). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York. Digital image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York. ©2007 C. Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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Figure 1.

René Magritte (1898-1967), Belgian. The Musings of a Solitary Walker, 1926. Photo credit: Banque d’Images, ADAGP/Art Resource, New York. © 2007 C. Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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Figure 2.

René Magritte (1898-1967), Belgian. The Central Story (L’histoire Centrale), 1928. Private collection. Photo credit: Herscovici/Art Resource, New York. © 2007 C. Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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E. L. T. Mesens' photograph of Magritte with Le Barbare (The Barbarian), 1938. Photo credit: Banque d’Images, ADAGP/Art Resource, New York. © 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SABAM, Brussels.

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