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Art and Images in Psychiatry
August 2007

The Murderer Threatened (L’assassin Menacé)

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Copyright 2007 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2007

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(8):882-883. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.64.8.882

What did you say? I said: Fantômas. . . . But what is it? Nobody . . . And yet, yes, it is somebody! And what does the somebody do? Spreads terror!

—Allain and Souvestre's Fantômas1(p1)

On February 24, 1912, 40-year-old Regina Magritte, mother of 14-year-old René Magritte (1898-1967), drowned herself in the Sambre river in Châtelet, Belgium.2(p8) She found the key to her locked bedroom in the early morning hours, walked to the bridge over the river near their home, and jumped to her death. Prone to depression, she had made previous suicide attempts, leading her husband to lock her into her bedroom at night with their youngest son Paul sharing the room with her. When Paul found her missing that morning, he alerted the family, who traced her footprints as far as the bridge. Seventeen days later, on March 12, her body was discovered about 1 km down the river from the bridge near a slag heap (reportedly with her nightgown wrapped around her head, concealing her face), and brought to their home overnight prior to burial. Magritte's wife, who first met him the year after his mother's death, confirmed that he rarely, if ever, spoke about his mother's death to others, not even to her.2(p9) Years later, when asked by his biographer about her death, Magritte said that his only remembrance was, “he imagined, a certain pride at being the center of attention in a drama . . . he was the son of the ‘dead woman.’”3(p19) Magritte's earliest surrealistic paintings suggest that the psychological impact of the events surrounding his mother's death were substantially greater than he was willing to acknowledge.

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