Famous Artwork: The Son of Man

An illustration of René​ Magritte's The Son of Man painting.
An illustration of René​ Magritte's The Son of Man painting.

The Son of Man is an oil on canvas painting by Belgian painter René Magritte. Made in 1964, the painting depicts a man in a dark overcoat, white shirt, and a black bowler hat, standing in front of a concrete wall. Behind the concrete wall is the sea and a cloudy sky. A green apple with four leaves covers the man’s face, partially and almost inconspicuously exposing the left eye. The painting’s uniqueness lies in the mystery Magritte creates on the subject of his portrait, as well as the odd left elbow, which appears to face the wrong direction. According to Magritte, his painting arouses the human desire and curiosity to go beyond the obvious and uncover the hidden. The painting is believed to be a self-portrait of Magritte’s and a part of a three-painting series, including The Man in a Bowler Hat and The Great War of the Facades. Like The Son of Man, other objects hide the faces of the human characters. The original copy of The Son of Man is part of a private collection last seen in 2011 at LHotel. in Montreal.

René Magritte

The surrealist painter was born in 1898 in Belgium to Leopold and Regina Magritte. He studied art in the early 1900s, later painting only part-time until his first contact in 1926. Magritte experimented with various styles including impressionism, cubism, fauvism, and futurism, before finally settling on surrealism. He joined the surrealist movement in France in the late 1920s. Unique to Magritte’s style is the use of illusionism, imagery, and mystery in his works, most of which are simple art pieces with a rather complex meaning. Magritte also copied artworks of famous artists, such as Picasso, which he sold together with his brother. His mysterious depictions of reality in his paintings are thought to be influenced by the loss of his mother early in life. Magritte rose to recognition as a painter in the 1960s, with establishments such as the Museum of Modern Art displaying his works. Magritte died of pancreatic cancer in 1967. Some of his famous works include The Treachery of images, The Human Condition, and The Menaced Assassin. Magritte describes images in his works as representations of the real but not the real item itself.

Legacy and Financial Worth

The Son of Man depicts the nature of events in the human sphere as always having something mysterious or hidden in both philosophy and reality. The painting has inspired the works of other artists in various fields and has been used in advertisements, films, book covers, as well as other paintings. Norman Norwell, for example, made Mr. Apple, a homage to the painting in 1970, where he replaces the head with a red apple. Other works in popular culture that depict the painting as it is or versions of it include Michael and Janet Jackson’s "Scream," The Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Thomas Crown Affair, Stranger Than Fiction, and Wonder Emporium. The original painting lies in a private collection and is not for sale. However, reproductions and versions of the painting may be found at various art outlets.


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