In June 1963, Magritte received an invitation from Show, “The Magazine of the Arts”, to participate in a special issue, slated for February 1964, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. The editors hoped that Magritte would provide an artwork suitable for illustrating one of the articles by authors including Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Aldous Huxley, James Thurber, Jack Kerouac, James Baldwin, John Gielgud, and J.B. Priestley, among others. In a postcard from Nice dated 18 June, Magritte mentioned to Harry Torczyner, a close friend and his foremost American collector, that he was about to respond to Show, stating that “my conception of painting is the opposite of ‘illustrating’ a given subject” (quoted in Sylvester., op. cit.). Magritte was inclined to turn down the offer.
Ultimately persuaded, however, to accede to Show’s request–“perhaps by Torczyner, who appears to have taken over negotiations” (ibid.)—Magritte painted the gouache offered here, dispatching it to Show’s offices in New York on 23 September 1963.
Affixed to the backing of Hommage à Shakepeare is a sheet with Magritte’s letterhead, bearing in the artist’s hand this inscription: “Julius Caesar act I scène II / Brutus: ‘No, Cassius: for the eye sees not itself / But by reflection, by some other things’” (ibid.).
In Shakespeare’s play, an anonymous soothsayer has just warned Caesar, who was walking with Cassius and Brutus, “Beware the Ides of March.” After Caesar leaves them, Cassius begins to draw Brutus into his conspiracy to assassinate the ambitious, would-be tyrant. “Tell me good Brutus, can you see your face?” “No, Cassius,” Brutus replies... To which Cassius responds, “And it is very much lamented, Brutus, that you have no such mirrors as will turn your hidden worthiness into your eye, that you might see your shadow.”
Magritte in his tribute to Shakespeare transformed the Bard into one of the artist’s signature bilboquets, a lathe-turned wooden baluster or kind of chess-piece, which resembles a commemorative bust set atop a plinth. The huge eye attests to the omniscient perspicacity and wisdom of the illustrious playwright. The curtains, floorboards, and infinite sky in the distance proclaim “All the world’s a stage” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII). The editors of Show ultimately decided not to use Hommage à Shakespeare in their publication. Torczyner acquired the gouache from Magritte, and gifted it to the present owner.