Self Portrait (circa 1945)
by Magritte’s Hat
(90 x 65 cm) Shoe polish on felt
Initially attributed to the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte this painting is actually a self-portrait and authorship has been conclusively traced to his hat. Living in such a close proximity to the artist’s head for so long it is hardly surprising the hat’s work is greatly influenced by Magritte’s style and themes, as many other artists and headwear were similarly influenced afterwards.
This self portrait finished circa 1945 conveys the tensions existing at the time between Magritte and his favorite hat after an incident that almost broke their lifelong relationship. A few months earlier Magritte had sent the hat to the cleaners and it had been returned to the wrong address. After several formal protests from the Belgian embassy, the recipient, a Chinese a businessman who had reached Shanghai wearing the hat before noticing the confusion, returned the hat to Magritte by steamer boat. The the captain’s records in the ship’s log show that fear of strong winds, a common psychosis among headwear, caused the hat to spend the entire three weeks voyage locked in its cabin. When it finally arrived to Belgium it was out of shape, stained with soya sauce and pigeon droppings and it took several operations performed by a team of the best Belgian hat makers to fit it comfortably again on Magritte’s head that, by all contemporary accounts, was oddly shaped and larger than usual. This ordeal caused a serious trauma and a superstitious fear of pigeons became constant theme of the hat’s future artistic production. After the incident the hat refused to leave Magritte’s head even for laundry which after a while caused Magritte’s head to smell funny and became cause of constant friction between them.
The interdependence between them is reflected in this self portrait where the felt has assumed the shapes of the Magritte’s brain. Some art critics speculate that most of Magritte’s ideas can be attributed to his hat but this seems silly as Magritte never wore his hat while working on his paintings worried as he was of soiling it. The hat’s self portrait depicts a more gloomy landscape than it is usual in Magritte’s works. The pigeon perched on top is a looming symbol of foreboding for the hat, who always felt Magritte was using him to protect himself from airborne excrements and considered his hat a shield rather than his artistic equal. Nevertheless their lifelong collaboration was uninterrupted and fruitful: the hat modeled for Magritte’s paintings countless times and Magritte always consulted the hat about the weather before step out the street. When Magritte died in August 1967 the hat continued a solo career but never accomplished much as it couldn’t leave the spot where Magritte had left it: on top of a garden chair in the backyard of their Brussels home. It finally passed away sixteen years after its owner when as in its worst fears it was carried away by the wind and run over by a tram car near Brussels. It was solemnly buried in a hole by the painter’s grave after a funeral mass attended by the Belgian Royal Family, whose idle members had apparently nothing better to do that day.