'If painting were obliged to express emotions or set forth ideas, I would express neither optimism nor its opposite. We cannot be too unsure if the effectiveness of our so-called power of expression. What we feel when looking at a painting, or when looking into a blue distance, for example, does not imply that we are "determined" by what appears to us. Yet painting - like the blue distance and everything else - reveals images of the world, and it can happen that in looking at them, painting them, thinking about them, we have this unfamiliar feeling of our mystery - one we also sometimes have with our eyes closed' (René Magritte in a letter to Paul Colinet, 1957, reproduced in H. Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, trans. R. Miller, New York, 1977, p. 220).
Executed in 1933, La reconnaissance infinie ('Reconnaissance without end') bears witness to one of the most important friendships at the basis of Belgian Surrealism, that between René Magritte and Paul Colinet. Colinet was a poet in the Belgian, rather than the Parisian, Surrealist tradition. As did several of Magritte's friends, Colinet provided the Belgian artist with many of the titles to his works. In La reconnaissance infinie, the link goes deeper - Colinet, having seen Magritte's one-man exhibition in Brussels in 1933 (the year they met), gave the artist a drawing which was the model for the present work. This drawing was clearly inspired by some of the pictures on show, and is essentially an amalgamation of several Magritte images.
Of the elements which appeared in the paintings Magritte exhibited in 1933, the most important here are the floating sphere, seen previously in La vie secrète of 1928, and the mountains. Here, the sphere is mounted by a bemused-looking figure, straining his eyes to see what is in the distance. Perhaps he has perceived the 'mystery' which Magritte had described to Colinet. This in itself is a play on words in the title, the French word reconnaissance meaning the same in English but with the double meaning of 'recognition'. Although the former meaning is apt for someone watching out over a great distance, as is the case in La reconnaissance infinie, the concept of recognition, especially of one's own lot, is crucial to this work.
The twilight ambience adds to the sense of 'mystery' which this scene instills in the viewer. The perspective is especially forceful, with the receding mountains and the tiny image of the man reinforced by the angled cornice, an incongruous hint of homeliness, at the top right. This effect provides the viewer with a sense of location actively determined by Magritte. The viewer occupies a bizarre, domestic space within the essentially Romantic landscape, and is therefore thrust directly into the universe of La reconnaissance infinie. These various elements combine to fulfil Magritte's conscious aim not to provoke a 'determined' reaction in the viewer, but rather to create an individualised sense of understanding. As Magritte also told his friend Colinet, 'The feeling we experience while looking at a picture cannot be separated from either the picture or ourselves. The feeling, the picture, we, are joined in our mystery' (Magritte, in a letter to Colinet, quoted in H. Torczyner, op. cit, 1977, p. 220).