Magritte’s ‘The Lovers II’ is a lesson in falling in love, in getting closer and closer to a person and suddenly realising that you can never truly know them. It represents the conflict that exists between the image of a person conjured in the mind of their lover and who they actually are. We are all looking at each other through opaque veils, holding onto what we don’t understand. That, Magritte tells us, is what falling in love is like. It’s blind and it’s ludicrous, urgent and beautiful.
This painting takes on a far more literal meaning today. Since the pandemic began, we have entered into a world of separated lovers: lovers who cannot meet and lovers who have never met; relationships torn apart by law and bonds that never formed because two strangers could not collide. The tension of that not-quite meeting, of the inadequate Zoom call and the imposter telephone line is all captured in this image. It’s there in the failing touch of the lips, never meeting and not quite satisfactory.
The man in the painting wears his veil like a scarf. He wraps it over his shoulder with the indifference with which we now wear surgical masks. Unlike us, the lovers of this painting have their entire faces covered. Their facelessness suggests a loss of identity, a spectral blankness and a confusion of the self. Just like the lovers, we are forced to ask ourselves who we are without physical connection. Like them, we sit in partially constructed rooms, able to interact but not quite meet with the people we want to.
In being stripped of identity, the lovers of this painting come to represent us all: they are people calling for human connection, unsure of what they are without it.