Magritte on Words and Images (PDF)

La trahison des images (Magritte 1928-1929)
La trahison des images (René Magritte)

Magritte’s best known work by far is of course his drawing of a pipe with the text Ceci n’est pas une pipe. He made several versions over the years, but the work originated in 1928 or 1929. The title Magritte gave to this painting is La trahison des images — the treachery of images.

Less well known is the fact that in the same year, Magritte published an intriguing article in the surrealist journal La révolution surréaliste, entitled Les mots et les images. This article shows that the phenomenon so playfully taken up in La trahison des images was only one element of a larger set of problems in verbal and visual representation occupying Magritte. 1 Here’s the first page:

Magritte 1929, p. 32
Magritte,  1929, Les mots et les images, p. 32

Magritte’s article offers 18 panels dealing with different aspects of the relation between words, images, and reality. As a succinct overview, it is extremely effective. I have used it in my own work to clarify the distinction between depiction and description.

While Magritte’s 18 sketches have been reproduced in several places, the original is somewhat hard to find. Which is why I’m sharing it here. Use the JPG versions below, or download the PDF here. Enjoy!


Magritte, René. 1929. “Les Mots et les Images.” La Révolution surréaliste 12: 32–33. (PDF)


  1. By the way: don’t confuse this brief article with a reissue of some of Magritte’s work published under the same title in 1994.[]

2 thoughts on “Magritte on Words and Images (PDF)”

  1. Thank you very much for this post and for making Magritte’s article available online. Interestingly, I came to this webpage after a rather desperate search for a French pdf version of Magritte “Les Mots et les Images”, and it is only later that I realized you also were the author of the paper “Ezra Pound among the Mawu”. Great paper really. The comparison between the haiku-like poem of the Pound with that of Dogobadomo was not only compelling but also quite refreshing amidst a sea of rather dry academic writings (and so was ending the article with Pound’s translation of Confucius!). Although I guess that missing the chance of a reference to Pound for someone working among the people that kept alive the legend of Wagadu would have been quite a faux pas! Anyway, I look forward reading more of your posts and papers.

  2. Thanks for posting the original. My French is rusty, but the combination of words & drawings made it possible to work out the ideas. Magritte truly “illustrated” his “views”. (Blushing! Couldn’t stop myself!)

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