Marcel Marien

Marcel Marien

Marcel Marien after seeing a painting by Magritte in 1937 decided to seek out the artist. He became an important associate in the late 1930s and 1940s. The friendship ended (and some subsequent litigation) when Marien published a pamphlet purportedly written by Magritte and announcing absurd price reductions of the master's work. Below are several bios and articles including two obits from 1993.  

Marcel Mariën (April 29, 1920, Antwerp – September 19, 1993, Brussels) was a Belgian surrealist, (later Situationist), poet, essayist, photographer, filmmaker, and maker of objects. Initiator of étrécissements. Wrote the first monograph on René Magritte. He was a close friend of Paul Nougé. His book L'Activité Surréaliste en Belgique is an account of the surrealist movement in Belgium. The appearance of his autobiography in 1983 Le Radeau de la Mémoire produced a scandal. He founded his own publisher Les Lèvres Nues in 1954 and directed his review Le Ciel Bleu with Christian Dotremont and Paul Colinet. Worked as a translator in Communist China from 1963 until 1965 but came back very disappointed about Maoism.

Biography (Edited and translated by Richard Matteson)

Marcel Mariën was born in Antwerp the April 29th 1920, to a Wallon mother and of a Flemish father. In 1933 he entered  the college of Antwerp where he had difficulty because the classes were given entirely  in Flemish. When he was fifteen years old he worked as an apprentice photographer and learned photography. The same year he attended a School for workers and saw two prints by Rene Magritte. In 1936 he discovered surrealist books and reviews, and began to write surrealist poems. While making money working for a stockbroker  in 1937 he met  Rene Magritte in Brussels and through him he met Paul Colinet then Louis Scutenaire, Irene Hamoir, and Paul Nougé. He traveled to London and took part in the September surrealist exhibit organized by E.L.T. Mesens. He exhibited his first work of art (titled "Untraceable" given by Magritte)- his eyeglasses, which had just broken, now with only one glass in the frame.

After serving in the military in Antwerp (January 1939) for seventeen months, Mariën collaborated in January 1940 in the collective works of Magritte and Ubac. During the German invasion of Belgium, he looked after the casualties at the hospital of Antwerp before being evacuated in May. He brought with him two large bags of books which he refused to leave. Whe he reached Dunkirk and Berck, He is taken prisoner, goin to Antwerp by foot then crossing into Belgium by truck. He was taken by train to Nuremberg then to camp Görlitz into High Silesia, close to Hohenelbe (Vrchlabi in Czech). In 1941, after nine months of captivity,  he was released in Antwerp, and traveled to Brussels by bicycle where he found Magritte, Nougé, Scutenaire, Ubac and met Christian Dotremont. Through the editions then called The Magnetized Needle (name given by Nougé) he published Moralité about the dreams of Paul Éluard, which included three drawings of Magritte. He met “Elisabeth” his love for the next ten years.

Mariën along with Scutenaire and Nougé published a collection of paintings by Magritte. From 1942 he frequently went to Paris clandestinely selling forged paintings by Magritte of Renoir, Picasso, Leger, and De Chirico. Marien wrote,  “From 1942 with 1946, I sold a big number of drawings and paitnings (gouches), mostly forgeries of Picasso, Braque and Chirico, all made by Magritte." 

He can thus publish several works under the sign the inaccurate Mirror. While working on the review, "The Hand with Feather," he met in Paris Queneau, Leiris, and the painter Dominguez. In August 1943 he published the first biography of Magritte where he defended in 1947 Magritte's new style- the “Renoir" period. Along with Leuwen and Dotremont, Marien organized a conference on surrealism. In 1945 Mariën contributed to the review, the Blue Sky, along with Colinet and Dotremont, and started to publish with Magritte a series of mystifying and subversive booklets "The Imbecile," "The Bloody Nuisance" and "The Enculor." He contributed to "The Ground is not a Vale of Tears" with Breton, Char, Colinet, Dominguez, Dotremont, Eluard, Irene Hamoir, Magritte, Picasso, Queneau, Scutenaire,and Ubac. In 1946 and 1947, he contributed to the collection, The Inaccurate Mirror.

In 1948 Mariën settled as secondhand bookseller in Brussels (With the Mirror by Elizabeth), surviving by working as a typewriter. In 1951 he taveled to Rotterdam on the Swedish, cargo liner “Silver Ocean” equipped with refrigerated containers for the transportation of fruit. He traveled between the the French Antilles (Fort-de-France or Low-Ground) and the Normandy (Rouen or Dieppe), smuggling of cigarettes and perfumes. When he returned to Brussels in 1953 he spent time with a prostitute in the district of the North station and wrote articles for the cultural adviser Soviet. He collaborated with Rene Magritte and his brother Paul Magritte, to distribute 500 one hundred franc counterfeit Belgian bills which were drawn and engraved by the painter (see article in this blog elaborating on this- Magritte Forgeries by Patricia Allman). By 1954 he left Magritte and worked, along with Jane Graverol and Nougé, on the review, The naked Lips, a subversive, anticlerical and stalinist review centered on the poetic and theoretical writings of Nougé.

Marcel Mariën: Ne faites pas attention à la photographie (Don't pay attention to the photography)
By France Lejeune

Marcel Mariën was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1920, a single child in modest and rather unhappy surroundings. His mother was eager for him to leave school so that he could earn some money.

When he left school at the age of 15, he became an apprentice to a photographer for a year, doing all the menial jobs. He set up a small studio at his home, but continued to work in odd jobs.He became acquainted with Surrealist publications, and, at the age of 17, he went to Brussels to meet René Magritte. He, a youngster 20 years junior to Magritte, was welcomed into the circle of Brussels surrealists.

In 1937 he started to make collages and some photos in the surrealist tradition. In December 1937 he participated in the group exhibition 'Surrealist Objects and poems' in the London Gallery. In Paris he met Breton, Eluard, Picasso, Hugnet...

He came to art, not being able to draw or paint. However it was not a major constraint for Mariën. He made two- and three-dimensional collages, exposing the physical and metaphysical connections between things.

In 1939 he enlisted in the Belgian Army and did his military service. In the early stages of WWII, he was captured and made a prisoner of war in Germany. After his release, he returned to Brussels, where he wrote the first monograph on René Magritte. During the war, he met a young widow, Elisabeth Altenloh, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship for eight years.

In order to make ends meet during the war, René Magritte painted fakes (e.g., false Max Ernst and de Chirico paintings). Mariën was given these works to sell in Paris on commission. In 1948 Mariën opened the bookshop 'Au miroir d'Elisabeth'. The business is not a great success. In 1950 Mariën had to close it down. In 1953 he helped René and Paul Magritte to distribute false bank notes on the Belgian coast. He left Belgium and worked on a Danish cargo ship for two years.

In 1959, he directed the film 'L'imitation du cinéma' with his associate Leo Dohmen. Dohmen, Mariën and Gilbert Senecaut set up a scheme to win a contest at the newspaper where Mariën was working. With the winnings, they financed the making of the film. The film caused a scandal and was banned in France. Mariën continued to write and publish numerous books. His best known publication was the magazine 'Les Lèvres Nues', for which Guy Debord wrote a contribution.

In June 1962, a Magritte retrospective was shown in the casino of Knokke. At this point, there is general recognition and wide acceptance for Magritte. Together with Leo Dohmen, Mariën made and distributed the pamphlet 'Grande Baisse'. They pretended that the pamphlet came from Magritte himself. In this pamphlet the 'Great painter' advertised big discounts on his most successful works. These could be ordered in various sizes. A majority of supporters, intellectuals and journalists were taken in by this fake communication. The episode put an end to 25 years of friendship between Magritte and Mariën.

At the end of 1962, Mariën lived in New York. When he tried to return home, through the Orient, he ended up in communist China. He went to work for the French edition of a propaganda magazine. This was not from sympathy for Mao or China, but simply due to lack of money. The Chinese were the only ones to offer him a job and a ticket for the boat back to Belgium.

In 1965 he finally moved back to Brussels. His friend Leo Dohmen encouraged him to go back to making collages. In 1969 he had his first solo exhibition in Brussels at Galerie Defacqz. From that point on he received many solo and group exhibitions in Belgium and abroad.

Mariën was not a very practical man. His companion Hedwige Benedix helped him with the production of his works. After she died, Mariën returned to photography. From 1980 until his death in Brussels in 1993, he never stopped taking photographs.

During the last years of his life, he was also a very prolific publisher. Among his many books were two publications on his photographs. In 1984 he published “Le sentiment photographique” and in 1985 “La femme entrouverte”. The English edition 'Woman Ajar' was seized by the customs at the border and the books were destroyed. Mariën was not, like his friend Leo Dohmen, a good-looking and natural-born rascal, so he made big efforts to lead an adventurous and exciting life.

In 1988 he published his autobiography, 'Le radeau de la mémoire'. In his book Marien recounts his first visit to prostitutes, his time as a prisoner of war, his (sex) life as a sailor on a cargo ship and the schemes with Magritte to sell falsified paintings and distribute forged bank notes. But we learn very little about his more emotional and personal relationships. He was careful to hide his feelings behind stories of adventure and mischief.

"Don't pay attention to (the) photography" might seem a bizarre title for a book on photographs. It is inspired by the title of Mariën's 1974 solo show in Liège in the Galerie de l'APIAW, 'Ne faites pas attention à la peinture'. It meant that we should focus on the ideas in his work and not on the execution.

In the same way, we should not pay too much attention to the technical aspects of his photographic work. Photography for him is just another tool to cause embarrassment and pleasure, laughter and poetical emotion. He arranges intriguing scenes, usually with the body of a woman as canvas, playing with objects, toys and words. Then he records the scene by taking the photo.

Marcel Marien, 73, Associate of Magritte
Published: Saturday, October 9, 1993

Marien, a publisher, artist and writer and one of the last of the circle of Belgian Surrealists who gathered around the painter Rene Magritte, died on Sept. 19 in Schaerdeeck, a suburb of Brussels. He was 73.

Mr. Marien was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1920, into a poor family, and apprenticed to a photographer at age 15. In 1937, he encountered Magritte's paintings in an exhibition and sought out the artist. Within the year, he had his own work included in an exhibition of the close-knit Belgian Surrealist group. Although he worked as a photographer, collagist, film maker and critic, his main achievement was as a chronicler of the Belgian Surrealists' activities and a publisher of their writings.

Mr. Marien wrote the first monograph on Magritte, which was published in 1943. In 1954, he founded Les Levres Nues, a publishing enterprise that brought out the writings of such Belgian Surrealists as Paul Houge, Louis Scutenaire and Andre Souris, as well as Magritte himself, in a series that extended to hundreds of titles. In 1979, Mr. Marien published "L'Activite Surrealistes en Belgique," a chronological record of all the documents, manifestos, tracts and articles pertaining to the group that appeared between 1924 and 1950.

Obituary: Marcel Marien by SILVANO LEVY
Saturday, 2 October 1993

Marcel Marien, publisher, poet, artist, writer: born Antwerp 29 April 1920; publications include Notes 1943, Magritte 1943, Les Corrections naturelles 1947, Theorie de la revolution mondiale immediate 1958, Dix Tableaux de Magritte 1946, L'Activite surrealiste en Belgique 1979; died 19 September 1993.

WHEN I asked Marcel Marien how he perceived himself he gave the somewhat misleading reply 'Je suis editeur.' That was certainly not untrue but it was far from the full story.

As a publisher, his significance has been considerable. From its inception in 1954, his publishing enterprise, Les Levres Nues, has ceaselessly sought to bring the work of the Belgian Surrealist writers to public attention. Paul Nouge, Louis Scutenaire, Irene Hamoir, Andre Souris and Paul Colinet feature in the various issues of the series, which extends to hundreds of titles. The collection 'Le Fait Accompli', issued from 1968 to 1975 by Les Levres Nues and comprising 135 numbers, was particularly suited to the often aphoristic and incomplete texts produced by the Belgian group. Its high-quality, in-quarto format, sometimes comprising no more than four sheets, succeeded in rescuing otherwise fleeting letters, tracts and statements, which may well otherwise have disappeared.

One striking example of this mission concerns some unfinished, experimental notes made by Nouge in 1928, which Marien collated and matched with corresponding photographs and then published under the title La Subversion des images. Such was Marien's systematic documentation of Belgian Surrealist activity that it produced many thorough tomes. Les Levres Nues published Nouge's collected theoretical writing under the title Histoire de ne pas rire in 1956 and in 1972 Magritte's texts from the period 1946 to 1950 appeared in Manifestes et autres ecrits. In 1979 Marien published what he had described as 'a history of Surrealist activities in Belgium' in the form of a chronological record of all the documents, manifestos, tracts and articles which appeared between 1924 and 1950.

Perhaps of more significance to the history of Belgian Surrealism, though, is that Marien was responsible for the first monograph on Magritte, published in 1943, and for the subsequent study on the artist, Les Corrections naturelles, which appeared in 1947.

Marien was far from being a detached commentator on Surrealism, however, and well before he became a guardian of the legacy of the Belgian group, he had joined its ranks. His activities began at the age of 17 when he participated in a Surrealist group exhibition in London, Surrealist Objects and Poems, organised by ELT Mesens in 1937. Yet it was not until 1967 that he was to become consistently productive. Using a variety of media, which included collage, decoupage, drawing, painting, toys, household items and even a reproduction of a Michelangelo fresco, Marien produced hundreds of humorous, puzzling and provocative tableaux which challenge and mock our preconceptions and taboos. These can never be said to constitute direct criticism but are rather ways of defying the intellect. For instance, The Houdini Memorial (1977), Marien explained, began with two hands clasped as though in prayer, which had to be wrenched from their symbolic servitude. The addition of handcuffs underlined the subjugation and humiliation implicit in the gesture. By giving the piece its title, which invokes the master of escapology, Marien reverses and defies the initial situation: the devotion is neither voluntary nor will it be insurmountable.

That Marien should urge his spectator to react against time- worn social conventions and beliefs is not surprising since his thinking is motivated by a desire to deride the norms of society, the Church and Capitalism. In a blatant attempt to challenge traditional opinions and attitudes, he produced and directed a film, L'Imitation du cinema (1959), which combined sexual outrage with religious affront. This work caused a scandal in Belgium and was banned in France. It proved impossible to have the film shown in the United States even though it had the support of the Kinsey Institute.

But Marien was not content with a detached, artistic form of mischief. He proved to be equally subversive in life. At the time of the Magritte retrospective at Knokke-Le Zoute in 1962, Marien anonymously issued a tract announcing Magritte's apparent decision to reduce his prices. This infuriated Magritte. Georgette, Magritte's widow, told me that she could never forgive Marien for his troublemaking, even 20 years later.

If Marien appeared intent on continually disrupting and questioning the reality in which he found himself, it was because he had little faith in it. As he once put it, 'Have you ever been alive? Curious sensation isn't it?'

Artist:  Marcel Mariën 
From an early age, surrealism and photography were intertwined in the life of Marcel Mariën. Born to a modest family, he left school at the age of fifteen to become apprenticed to a photographer in Antwerp. From 1936 until 1937, Mariën earned a living with menial, unrewarding jobs at photographic laboratories. It was during this time that he discovered the work of René Magritte in an exhibition in Antwerp and read the Manifeste du Surréalisme by André Breton. Mariën set up a small studio at home and embarked upon his first surrealist images, but with little result. Retreating to the darkroom allowed Mariën a chance to escape his monotonous family environment and indulge his passion for reading, writing poetry and producing collages.

Marcel Mariën corresponded with Magritte, twenty years his senior, and the two artists met in July 1937. The young man was warmly welcomed into the circle of Belgian surrealists where he forged friendships with Paul Colinet, Paul Nougé, and Louis Scutenaire.
In December 1937, Mariën took part in the group exhibition “Surrealist Objects and Poems” in the London Gallery.

His travels take him further than Antwerp and Brussels and, in 1942, after exchanging letters with René Char and Paul Eluard and, the artist meets Eluard, Picasso, Oscar Dominguez and Georges Hugnet during his first visit to Paris.

In 1943, Mariën publishes the first monograph on Magritte, which marked the official debut of a long and prolific career as author and publisher. De Sade à Lénine , the first widely known emblematic photo work by Mariën, was included in the “ Surréalisme “, exhibition at Galerie des Editions La Boétie, Brussels, between December 1945 and January 1946. The image shows a woman cutting a slice of bread, the loaf gripped tightly against her naked torso, the sharp tip of the blade pointing at left breast. With this piece, the artist was commenting: ‘the knife passes from de Sade to Lenin ».

In the vein of purest surrealist tradition, two distinct themes recur in Mariën’s photographic work: everyday objects stripped of their traditional function, and the female body as instrument of creation.

Between this short period in the 1940s and early 1980s, Mariën largely abandoned photography to pursue other media - collage, decoupage, drawing and object-making. However, from the 1950s to early 1960s, Mariën produced little plastic work; always an adventurer, his wanderlust impelled him to sign up as a sailor on Swedish cargo ship (late 1951 to early 1953), spend time living in New York (in late 1962) before deciding to live and work in Communist China. Rather than being inspired by ideological reasons, the move east had purely financial motives; Mariën had been offered a job working in Peking as corrector for the French edition of the magazine La Chine en construction (October 1963 to February 1965).

In between the periods spent abroad, Mariën managed to find the time to distribute the fake banknotes printed by René and Paul Magritte throughout the Belgian coast (May to June 1953), and to write and publish numerous works, among which his best-known magazine, Les Lèvres Nues (from 1954 onwards). The artist also directed the film L’imitation du cinéma in 1959 which caused a scandal in Belgium and was prohibited from being screened in France. In July 1962 Mariën and his collaborator Leo Dohmen wrote and circulated the tract “ La Grande Baisse”, for a major retrospective of the work of Magritte at Knokke Casino. Presented as written by Magritte himself, this pamphlet announced dramatic discounts on some of Magritte’s major pieces, and the chance to order them in different sizes. Intellectuals and art critics including André Breton in the newspaper Combat failed to grasp the joke, and praised the great Magritte.

However, the distribution of this tract brought twenty-five years of friendship between Magritte and Mariën to an end.
After his stay in China, Mariën returned to Brussels in 1965. His friend Leo Dohmen encouraged him to start making collages again and, in 1967, Mariën’s first solo exhibition was held at Galerie Defacqz in Brussels. Numerous solo and group exhibitions were to follow, in Belgium and abroad.

Throughout these years, Mariën also continued to write and publish prolifically. Publication of Lèvres Nues ceased in 1975, but was recommenced in 1987 and continued until 1993.

The bulk of Mariën’s photographic work was produced between 1983 and 1993. During this time, he also published two books dedicated entirely to his photography: Le Sentiment photographique, in 1984, and La femme entrouverte, in 1985.
Not a very practical man, Mariën’s companion, Hedwige Benedix, assisted him in the production of his works. After her death, he returned to photography, which proved an eloquent medium for expressing his ideas. Mariën’s images required rudimentary technical knowledge, relying neither on sophisticated lighting nor complex backgrounds. Nor was he intent on depicting the ideal body, or constructing the suggestive poses typical of erotic photography.

In his mise en scene of the female body with objects, Mariën eliminated technical and aesthetic aspects so as not to distract the spectator: “Ne faites pas attention à la photographie” (“Don’t pay attention to the photography”).

What we see in La banlieue is the Eiffel tower, balanced on a woman’s navel, gazing at her pubis. Mariën’s choice of title makes the elements of the image immediately legible, thus reinforcing the narrative of the photograph.

In La géante , a miniature toy horse rests on a woman’s pubic triangle. In a free association of ideas, we establish a harmonious link between the vast forest and the little animal that, with his right foreleg, seems to caress this inviting resting place.

But what is the focus of Le Mire ? Is it the Giaconda to which our eyes are drawn? Or is our gaze lured towards the untroubled valour of Mariën’s model who, between her parted legs, conceals the smile of the Mona Lisa? Setting aesthetic judgement aside, we are out-smarted by Mariën’s storytelling games.

4La mire page of the catalogue

By Matt Damsker

Catalogue accompanying the recent exhibition of the same name at France LeJeune Fine Art, Battelse steenweg 67, 2800 Mechelen, Belgium. 63 pages; approximately 40 black-and-white plates; ISBN-10 No. 90-9021382-1. Available for $25 from Vintage Works, Ltd. ; email ; phone 1-215-822-5662 and France Lejeune Fine Art ; email: .

One of surrealism's standard bearers, the Belgian art scholar and provocateur Marcel Marien (1920-1993) produced most of his photographic work, which is very rarely seen, between 1983 and his death a decade later, and this catalogue affords a broad glimpse of a playful, inelegant style that evokes the odd objectifications of such mentoring figures as Magritte and Man Ray. Marien's Man Ray-esque nude images dominated his photographic oeuvre, in fact, as he indulged a series of photographic jokes--such as a "bearded" Mona Lisa glimpsed in relation to a nude model's unshaven pudendum, or a miniature model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa held from a female crotch as if it were a penis.

These and other such mockeries of the female form, the voyeuristic gaze and the sanctity of photo-portraiture are intentionally flat and seem amateurish, but the more one looks at them, the more evident it becomes that Marien was very much in control of his medium and his point of view. On one hand, he sought to pay homage to his surrealist inspirations, while on the other, he, as a true Dadaist, was intent on painting a childlike moustache on the fine-art tradition, and he did so with a mixture of deadpan bravado and disarming glee.

It is not surprising to learn, as this catalogue tells us, that Marien's long friendship with Magritte resulted not only in the first important monograph on the great surrealist painter (published by Marien in 1943) but also the end of the friendship (and some subsequent litigation) when Marien published a pamphlet purportedly written by Magritte and announcing absurd price reductions of the master's work.

Marien did produce at least one great photograph in his youthful surrealist heyday: 1945's "De Sade a Lenine," in which a nude slices a loaf of bread with a knife that precariously edges her left nipple. The evocative photo blends political/sexual subtext with sheer compositional panache--and is a fine legacy of Marien's mischief and mastery.

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