The Treachery of Images  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Treachery Of Images (La trahison des images 1928-29) is a painting by Belgian Surrealist painter René Magritte, famous for its inscription Ceci n'est pas une pipe, French for this is not a pipe. The picture shows a pipe that looks as though it might come from a tobacco store advertisement. Magritte painted below the pipe: "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe), which seems a contradiction but is actually true. The painting is not a pipe, but rather an image of a pipe. As Magritte himself commented:

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture "This is a pipe," I'd have been lying!

The truth of the painting depends entirely on what the word "ceci" (in English, "this") is taken to refer to. Is it the pipe depicted—or is it the painting or even the sentence itself?

The theme of pipes with the text "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" is extended in his 1966 painting, Les Deux Mystères.

The painting is currently housed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Los Angeles, California and was previously housed at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Literary and cultural comment

French literary critic and philosopher Michel Foucault discusses the painting and its paradox in his 1973 book, This Is Not a Pipe (English edition, 1991).

Scott McCloud uses this painting as an introduction to the second chapter of his book Understanding Comics. McCloud points out that not only is the version that appears in his book not a pipe, it is actually several printed copies of a drawing of a painting of a pipe.

Douglas Hofstadter also discusses this painting and other images like it in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, a work on cognition and consciousness.

The title echoes that of Denis Diderot's story Ceci n'est pas un conte ("This is not a story").

In popular culture

Countless other works of art or entertainment have made use of the phrase "Ceci n'est pas...", a translation, or a variation on the concept of the difference between an object and its image (or symbol), one example being The Simpsons couch gag for the season nineteen episode "That 90's Show" where The Simpsons are seated on the couch with the caption, "Ceci n'est pas une couch gag".

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Treachery of Images" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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