A miraculous apparition dominates Tous les jours, painted by René Magritte in 1966. Against the backdrop of a dramatic, though largely barren, landscape are the eyes, nose and mouth of a man, hovering in the air and bracing the viewer with an uncanny gaze.
Tous les jours was one of a group of pictures that Magritte created during this period in which he explored the concept of emptiness, combining it in several cases with the tradition of portraiture which he had so gleefully disrupted and undermined throughout his career, be it by obscuring the head with a flower or an apple or instead removing it altogether. In some other pictures treating the theme at the time, he removed the head of his subject from the body, showing the face alongside the clothes, for instance in Le pèlerin of the same year. In Tous les jours, the face of the subject appears almost discernible, despite being fragmentary; this may in part be due to the impressive scale of the proboscis. In this sense, Magritte has conveyed an impressive but certainly ambiguous sense of realism through this patently and deliberately absurd composition.
The isolated facial features in Tous les jours, appearing without the benefit of a head to which to be appended, had made their first appearance in this context only shortly before this picture was painted, when he created the picture Le paysage de Baucis, of which he also created a gouache version which he donated to the ICA in London for a charity sale. Le paysage de Baucis had emerged as the solution, as Magritte himself explained, to one of the visual quandaries that he had set himself: initially, Magritte had hoped to find a way of representing the space between a woman's hat and her dress. He had chosen a woman as his subject because he felt that he did not want to cross into territory already tainted by The Invisible Man invented in the novel of Ralph Ellison and immortalised in various media ever since. In 1966 Magritte wrote to a friend explaining that the solution had become apparent, and in male form after all: 'I have discovered how to paint the emptiness between a hat and a man's suit without suggesting "the invisible man"' (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, Vol.III, London, 1993, p. 423). His solution was the inclusion of the floating facial features, the eyes, nose and mouth, which articulate and indeed dramatically highlight the 'emptiness.' Magritte's own enthusiasm for this solution was clear from another letter: 'The picture of the emptiness between a hat and a man's suit is finished: this was certainly one worth painting. I had thought of a title: "The horror of the void", but discarded it as being too "direct" in favour of a better, I think: "Baucis's landscape"' (Magritte, quoted in ibid., p. 423).
In Tous les jours, that same emptiness is pushed to a new extreme as the face is shown against a vast background, rather than hanging within the context of a human head and body. The contrast between the flesh and the rock-strewn scrub and mountains of the landscape adds a textural dimension to the tension between these disparate elements, thrusting them into bolder relief. It is as though we are in an inverted scene by Caspar David Friedrich, where a lone figure would normally be seen from behind against a sweeping vista. Here, instead, there is the partial arrangement of features of a man, facing the viewer in silent confrontation. Indeed, the mouth, nose and eyes appear almost to be materialising before us, or perhaps to be peeking through the picture surface, as though someone had cut out the holes for these various features to appear. With the eyes firmly focussed on the viewer, Magritte has created the impression that someone is trying to be discreet and yet failing. This also brings the viewer's attention emphatically to the artifice of the entire notion of painting.
The idea of a face appearing in such fragmentary form in the middle of a landscape appears to relate to Magritte's earlier series, Shéhérazade, in which the eyes and mouth of a woman appeared in the midst of baroque curlicues of strings of pearls. Magritte had shown a series of pictures containing a face made in this way at an exhibition in 1947, in the wake of the Second World War. At the same time, his interest in seeing the world afresh, in reconfiguring the visual combinations that we take so easily for granted in our existence, meant that the idea of the decontextualised or recontextualised face had appeared at the early highpoint of his Surrealism, when he first began to garner attention with his pictures. Thus, looking at La race blanche, we see a mysterious pile of facial figures which appear not to have been sorted into the form of a face. Meanwhile, in La bonne aventure, a landscape is articulated by little aside from a vast nose and a distant leaf-tree.
The human face is such a frequent feature in pictures that it was unsurprising that Magritte should deconstruct it so emphatically in his works. The scattered facial features of Tous les jours would insinuate themselves into Magritte's visual lexicon: they subsequently achieved another incarnation in such works as Les belles relations and Le siècle des lumières of 1967, where one eye was replaced by a distant hot air balloon, introducing a complex play of perspective. Yet such an engagement with the tradition of painting the human face had long played a role in Magritte's art, for instance in one of his most shocking and intriguing compositions, Le viol of 1934, now in the Menil Collection, Houston. In that work, Magritte hinted at man's obsession with sex and sexuality as well as the mystery of the portrait, which shows only a fragment of a person, by replacing the entire face with a naked female torso: the breasts replaced the eyes, the pubic area the mouth and the navel the nose. Already three decades before he had painted Tous les jours, then, Magritte was demonstrating his understanding and manipulation of the way that people read facial features.
In his correspondence, Magritte appears to have briefly changed the title of Tous les jours to Tous les matins. However, when the picture was sent, alongside Le paysage de Baucis and Le pèlerin, to an exhibition that Magritte's dealer Alexandre Iolas organised in Paris, which took place at the beginning of 1967, the artist wrote regarding the title: 'The title of the picture "Every Morning" should be changed: EVERY DAY is the title to be printed in the catalogue' (Magritte, quoted in D. Sylvester (ed.), S. Whitfield & M. Raeburn, René Magritte Catalogue Raisonné, Vol.III, London, 1993, p. 438). This marked a reversion to the title originally suggested by Evelyn and François Deknop, prominent figures in the Belgian circles of Surrealism from the 1940s onwards who had become friends with a large number of the people involved in that nebulous sphere, not least Magritte himself. Evelyn was a writer, and authored an essay entitled '"Pom'po pon po pon pon pom pon" ou la dialectique de l'incongru in the catalogue for the 1992 exhibition of Magritte's 'Vache' works at the Musée Cantini, Marseilles.
Iolas' show which prove to be one of Magritte's final major lifetime shows aside from a large retrospective in Rotterdam, held at the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen later that year. Magritte travelled to Paris for the exhibition and must have been gratified by the incredible reception that the pictures such as Tous les jours received. Writing to his friend Harry Torczyner, he recounted:
'There was a mob at the opening, "interviews" and all of the easily imagined things that entails. The notices in the newspapers were more plentiful than two years ago in Paris. They are also more perceptive and, oddly enough, I pay less attention to them' (Magritte, letter to Torczyner, 17 January 1967, Magritte Torczyner: Letters Between Friends, trans. R. Miller, New York, 1994, p. 142).