The Slatest

The Best Photo We Didn’t Use This Week: This Surrealist Painting Captures the Spirit of Quarantine

An art worker wearing a bowler hat and a Christie's apron stands next to René Magritte's "Le mois des vendanges" painting, which features an infinite number of men wearing bowler hats peering in an open window.
Too Magritte to quit. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Slate’s homepage editors spend a lot of time looking for editorial photos to put on our site. Those searches sometimes yield unexpected results: random, perplexing, and mesmerizing photos that don’t belong on the homepage, but that are too good not to share. Every week, we’ll share the weirdest photo from the wires.

What search term was used to find this in Getty?
“chris christie”

What were you hoping to find?
My colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley was searching for a photo of Chris Christie, the disgraced former New Jersey governor, to accompany his article on Christie’s 2024 presidential ambitions, which are definitely not hopeless according to pro–Chris Christie sources. (The most recent photo of Chris Christie that shows up in a Getty search for his name is from Jan. 20. Not the newsmaker he once was!)

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What did you find instead?
An uncanny rendering of our current reality. A single masked man in a Christie’s apron and a bowler hat stands inside a dark room, staring straight ahead, while a sea of unmasked figures in bowler hats peers placidly in through a window behind him. The Christie’s attendant almost becomes part of the artwork, capturing the disorienting feeling of separation from our communities during the ongoing pandemic. To see the unmasked men in the frame so close to one another is unusual, almost foreboding, after over a year of social distancing, but the blue sky above them lends an air of hope to the scene. Is it an omen that the herd immunity we’re seeking is on the horizon? Will we soon be able to shed our masks, don our bowler hats, and join the crowd outside?

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What’s the actual backstory here?
This March 16 photo was taken ahead of Christie’s “The Art of the Surreal” evening sale. The 1959 René Magritte painting up for auction, Le mois des vendanges (The Time of the Harvest), is considered one of his seminal works, featuring the mysterious bowler hat–clad figure that is the artist’s hallmark. Magritte wrote approvingly of this painting in his letters, calling it “the one which best reminds us how strange reality can be, if one has ‘a sense of reality.’ ” These words resonate in 2021 in ways Magritte probably could not have predicted. Who among us has “a sense of reality” that isn’t strange after everything that has transpired in the past year? It really is the season of surrealism.

Why is this the weird photo of the week?
It makes me thankful there is not a sea of Chris Christies peering in the window.

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