Monsieur Magritte gently placed the egg in the middle of the table. He angled it first this way, and then that way, until it was positioned exactly as he wanted it.
The light caught the egg and created a shadow that left its mark on the impeccable azure blue tablecloth, a stain that lengthened and shortened as the day wore on.
Early on the first day, Magritte set up his easel, carefully arranging his palette and his brushes. He prepared his oils, mixing with precision the colours that would so perfectly represent his egg on canvass.
During the days that followed there were times when he would put aside his brush and simply look at the egg, studying each delicately rounded and shadowed curve. Then the painter would pick up his palette and his brush and continue, totally absorbed in transferring what he saw, to what was unfolding before him.
Day after day, sitting erect in his straight-backed wooden chair, he studied the egg and transferred the image. His friends ceased to call. He was working and they knew better than to intrude. To disturb René Magritte’s concentration was tantamount to sacrilege.
Madame Magritte walked softly through the house, shooing the housemaid away from the closed door to her husband’s studio. The household revolved around the egg.
When the light faded, Magritte reluctantly put down his brush and his paints and retired to more mundane affairs. But though he was not physically in the room with his precious object, his presence was always there. When he did appear for meals, he was distracted, his mind back in his studio thinking about the egg. His conversation was reduced to monosyllables and his wife, the soul of patience, sighed and continued her meal in silence.
Evenings went and mornings came as Magritte hide himself away in his studio. A touch of this colour, a stroke of that shade, a point of light, a line of dark until one day, the painting was finished.
His intimates were invited to come to tea. There was a undercurrent of expectation in the drawing room that could not quite be restrained even by the required manners of polite society. Everyone wanted to see Magritte’s egg on canvass.
The housemaid finally scurried away with the last of the tea cups and the tray of crumbs left behind after the cakes were gone. Madame Magritte withdrew with a slight smile and a gentle nod directed towards her husband. The painter rose from his chair and turned to the door leading into his studio.
“Come, my friends, and see my masterpiece.”
They entered, circling around the painting, now shrouded by a piece of fabric. On the blue tablecloth sat the egg, resplendent in the afternoon light. The artist placed a thin hand at the center point of the drape and, sure that he had everyone’s undivided attention, swiftly pulled it away from the canvass.
There was a gasp, and then a stunned silence.
One of the more intrepid observers blurted out: “But René, that is not an egg!”
Before them, poised as though about to fly from the azure blue of the canvass, was the figure of a bird with brilliantly coloured wings outstretched. There was a light in its eyes that shone with intelligence and, just a hint of mockery.
René Magritte smiled at the confusion in the faces before him.
“It is important”, he said, “to see the end right from the beginning. You see an egg. I see the potential of the egg. I paint it as God sees it”.*
* story based (with considerable liberty taken) on a painting by René Magritte, a Belgian artist of the early twentieth century.
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