René Magritte Biography
This is a brief biography of René François Ghislain Magritte (November 21, 1898– August 15, 1967) who was a Belgian surrealist artist who painted around 1,300 (others list 1,600) pieces. The article is a combination of original thought and information obtained from various sources. This biography is surreal.
Magritte with a surreal pose
I'm not a fan of abstract art. Although some images like fractals pose an awesome type of beauty and wonderment to me, real images connect me to my world. If you're not trying to say something, if you're not trying to get the viewer involved mentally and emotionally- why bother. Provoking thought is an essential element of art for me and even though some surrealist images are not to be fathomed, making me think is enough. That's why Magritte is important to me.
Magritte is poking fun at reality itself, at meaning and at our perception of reality. Sometimes he tells us that what we see is not real it's just paint on canvas. Sometime night is day and day is night. And the symbols like the egg and apple have profound meaning...well maybe not. It's just a joke you see.
Rene Magritte described his paintings saying, "My painting is visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, 'What does that mean?' It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."
Here's an intersting paragraph from History of Art: Magritte was a painter of ideas; a painter of visible thoughts, rather than of subjects. He valued neither lyrical nor the abstraction. In his view, those artists producing such work, in presenting subject-matter, were presenting nothing worthy of a single thought, nor even deserving of one's interest. Magritte did not possess a studio in the strict sense of the word, responding maliciously to those who commented in surprise upon this that painting was done in order that it might land on the canvas, and not on the carpet, which indeed revealed not the slightest stain. The truth is that we cannot even say with any certainty whether Magritte actually enjoyed painting. He clearly liked to think in pictures; as soon as he had elaborated these thoughts with the aid of sketches and little drawings, however, he baulked at the idea of transferring them onto canvas, preferring to go and play chess in the "Greenwich", a well-known Brussels cafe. He was not as passionate a player as Man Ray or even Marcel Duchamp (who was infuriated at losing twice in a row to an eleven-year-old boy named Fischer); nevertheless, Magritte loved this form of visible mathematics more than the act of painting. Numerous anecdotes attest to his great contempt for that which Bram Bogart called "peinture-peinture" (which may be roughly translated as "painting pretty pictures") and Marcel Duchamp the class of the "retiniens" ("retina-cretinas") - in contrast to the class of the 'grey subject-matter.' "
The above paragraph from the History of Art expesses why I feel an afinity with Magritte- it's almost as if we are in some way kindred souls. If you want to get images of what exist- get a camera. Here's another example of Magritte's behavior (History of Art) that seems similar to mine:
"One day, Magritte let himself be persuaded by Georgette and a couple with whom they were friends to undertake a trip to Holland to visit an exhibition on Frans Hals, possibly the greatest master of using black in painting. Upon arriving in front of the museum, Magritte informed the others that Loulou, his little dog, did not want to see Frans Hals. And so, while his wife and their friends went round the exhibition, he waited for them in a little cafe, getting drunk on advocaat, an extremely sweet, egg-based alcoholic drink which rapidly makes one feel nauseous. He loathed so-called cultural trips. His laconic comment, upon seeing the pyramid of Cheops at Gizeh: "Yes... much as I expected." In the same way, he frequently repeated that the reproduction of a painting was all that he wanted, that he needed to see the original exactly as little as he had to read the original manuscript of books which he had read. The legacy of Dada in such jokes is unmistakable."
Magritte also liked to shock and surprise. His painting The Rape which features of a woman's face replaced by sexual attributes: breasts, belly button and pubic hair, certainly pushed the limit. To avoid a scandal this painting was hidden by a velvet curtain at the Minotaure exhibition in Brussels.
"The void is the only great wonder of the world," once said Magritte who was born in Lessines, in the province of Hainaut, in 1898, the eldest son of Léopold Magritte, a tailor, and Adeline, a milliner. November 21, 1898. But it is in "le Pays Noir" ("the Black Country": an area of coal mines and tips) that he spent most of his childhood and adolescence, particularly in the city of Châtelet, where he studied in our school.
His father, Léopold, born in Pont-à-Celles in 1870, was a tailor while his mother, Régina Bertinchamps, born in Gilly in 1871, was a modiste till she got married in 1898. After living in Lessines for a few months, his parents decided to settle in Gilly where his younger brothers, Raymond and Paul were born, respectively in 1900 and 1902. Paul who died in 1975, was a poet, a musician and a humorist; he was always very close to René.
The whole family lived in Chatelet from 1904 to 1917, except for two temporary stays in Charleroi and Brussels in 1913 and 1916. They successively stayed at numbers 79 and 95 in the "rue des Gravelles" in Châtelet. We know very little in fact about René Magritte's youth, for this great artist was loath to look into his past. Thanks to Paul, we know that Léopold, the father, was a successful businessman who gave his family the opportunity of living handsomely and could even afford a small staff of servants. Léopold certainly had a sense of humour but must have been rather ill-natured.
The tragic end of Régina Magritte, whose body was recovered in the Sambre Feb. 23, 1912, raised a lot of questions. No doubt she deeply influenced her son's work, in which water is omnipresent along with veiled characters (when Régina's body was taken away of the water, her face was covered with her dressing gown). After Régina's death, the education of the three brothers was entrusted to servants. Châtelet retains the memory of boisterous and mischievous kids, who were not particularly brilliant at school. In Charleroi, where he studied at the present "Athénée Ernest Solvay", he is remembered as a student who showed very little interest in Latin and many other branches. It is at the 1913 Fun Fair of Charleroi that he first met the one who would become his wife in 1922: Georgette Berger.
René felt an artistic calling in Châtelet where he took his first lessons in art; Eugène Paulus, the well-known sculptor, must have been one of his teachers. In 1911 already, René completed his first great oil painting :"Chevaux dans une pâture" (Horses in a pasture) which filled his father's heart with pride [confirmed by Magritte's autobiography]. Magritte's early impressionist works date back to 1915. The very first exhibition of works by René Magritte was held in the summer of 1915, in the "Château Bolle", rue de Couillet in Châtelet. This exhibition also displayed, among others, works by Albert Chavepeyer. Between 1915 and 1920, he intermittently attended classes at the Fine Arts Academy of Brussels but took far less interest in what he was being taught than in the people he met there.
In an interview Michael Georis of the newspaper Le Peuple asked Magritte, "When did you start you to draw, to paint?"
"As a very young person, around six or seven years," Magritte answered. "I attended later the Athenaeum of Charleroi and I liked much to draw and paint. My mother had died when I was very young. My father liked my drawings, my painting... He was benevolent and encouraged my vocation."
"Magritte retained few memories of his childhood in the province of Hainaut, where his parents' house in Lessines is today a little museum containing various documents. His memories were all the more vivid for being so few, however. His earliest recollection concerned a crate next to his cradle; it struck him as a highly mysterious object, and aroused in him that feeling of strangeness and disquiet which he would encounter again and again later in his adult life. His second recollection was connected with a manned hot air balloon which had landed on the roof of his parents' house. The manoeuvres undertaken by the men in their efforts to fetch down the enormous, empty bag, together with the leather clothing of the "aeronauts" and their earflap helmets, left him with a deep sensitivity for everything eluding immediate comprehension." [History of Art]
Magritte himself speaks of the third and last childhood recollection, with which we will concern ourselves here, in a lecture given in 1938: "During my childhood, I liked to play with a little girl in the abandoned old cemetery of a country town... We used to lift up the iron gates and go down into the underground vaults. Once, on regaining the light of day, I noticed an artist painting in an avenue of the cemetery, which was very picturesque with its broken columns of stone and its heaped-up leaves. He had come from the capital; his art seemed to me to be magic, and he himself endowed with powers from above. Unfortunately, I learnt later that painting bears very little direct relation to life, and that every effort to free oneself has always been derided by the public. Millet's Angelus was a scandal in his day, the painter being accused of insulting the peasants by portraying them in such a manner. People wanted to destroy Manet's Olympia, and the critics charged the painter with showing women cut into pieces, because he had depicted only the upper part of the body of a woman standing behind the bar, the lower part being hidden by the bar itself. In Courbet's day, it was generally agreed that he had very poor taste in so conspicuously displaying his false talent. I also saw that there were endless examples of this nature and that they extended over every area of thought. As regards the artists themselves, most of them gave up their freedom quite lightly, placing their art at the service of someone or something. As a rule, their concerns and their ambitions are those of any old careerist. I thus acquired a total distrust of art and artists, whether they were officially recognized or were endeavouring to become so, and I felt that I had nothing in common with this guild. I had a point of reference which held me elsewhere, namely that magic within art which I had encountered as a child."
Another source says: "He began lessons in drawing around 1910 in Chatelet where his family had moved- his father was also a trader which lead to a nomadic lifestyle in search of money. Magritte's first painting, a Belgian landscape was done in 1910 and is on display at the Rene Magritte Museum in Jett, a suburb of Brussels." As a young man Magritte also wrote mystery novels (under the name Renghis- a combination of his first and middle names) and poetry. He also read mystery novels. Maybe that's why his artwork is... mysterious.
Rene Magritte had two brothers, Paul and Raymond, both somewhat younger than himself. Raymond, the youngest, was a clever businessman with a practical and realistic intellect; art and poetry meant nothing to him. Even after his brother's first great successes, Raymond continued to regard him as an idiot and a "nut-case". It is true that Magritte demonstrated something of an antisocial tendency; with his rebellious temperament, he found it difficult to conform to existing conventions. One day, the King wished to give a banquet in his honour, perhaps intending to commission a picture from him; Magritte rang up the master of ceremonies a few hours before the dinner was due to begin, informing him that he had unfortunately burnt a hole in his dinner jacket with his cigarette, and would therefore be unable to participate in the festivities. He soon fell out with Raymond, whom he criticized for being bourgeois and conformist; on the other hand, he always felt very close to his other brother. Paul, who studied music with ELT Mesens, wrote popular songs, composing "Le petit nid", "Quand je t'ai donne mon coeur", and arranging two works by Georgius, "J'aime ma maison" and "Je suis blase". He also composed the music for a poem by Paul Colinet, "Marie trombone chapeau buse", a minor masterpiece every bit the equal of Satie and Fargue.
History of Art: "Paul and Rene often joined forces against Raymond during their childhood; they were both extremely interested in the love affairs of their father, who knew only too well how to console himself as a widower. They also shared a boundless love for the pleasures of the cinema, avidly following the famous Fantomas series in 1913 and 1914, which had been inspired by the novel by Souvestre and Allain. Their Thursdays and Sundays were filled with the heroic deeds of this enigmatic being. Fantomas was a sinister hero without identity, totally criminal but highly popular, who in some enviable way had succeeded in becoming revered precisely because of his disgraceful deeds. There can be no doubt that this mysterious challenge to the established order and the laws of the ruling class represented a rich source of inspiration for Magritte, one which also played a role in the subject matter of some of his pictures: one thinks, for example, of such pictures as The Return of the Flame or The Threatened Assassin."
Death of his Mother- 1912
One night in 1912, his mother Régine Bertinchamp, who suffered from depression, left the house while the rest of the family was asleep and she threw herself over a bridge, into the River Sambre. Magritte (then only 14) was reportedly present when her dead body was retrieved from the water. According to one of the many legends associated with Magritte, the image of his mother floating, her nightgown obscuring her face, influenced a 1927–1928 series of paintings of people with cloth obscuring their faces, including Les Amants and The Heart of the Matter.
Les Amants- The Lovers
(Legend associates these obscured images with his mother's suicide)
The incident was described much later by Louis Scutenaire in words which, according to Georgette, stylized the whole episode into a legend. The only recollection which Magritte himself admitted to having of the affair was that of a feeling of pride at suddenly finding himself the focal point of interest and sympathy both in the neighbourhood and among his fellow pupils at the Charleroi grammar school. It is certain that he never saw his mother's corpse, "its face covered with a nightdress". The psychological interpretations of Magritte's work by David Sylvester and others that the death of Rene's mother influenced a 1927–1928 series of paintings of people with cloth obscuring their faces, including Les Amants (The Lovers; see above) and The Heart of the Matter are unfounded. The painting that I believe deals directly with her death is his 1926 painting, "The Musings of a Solitary Walker."
"The Musings of a Solitary Walker" 1926
Magritte Recalls His Early Work- 1915
"In 1915 I attempted to regain that position which would enable me to see the world in a different way to the one which people were seeking to impose upon me," Magritte explained. "I possessed some technical skill in the art of painting, and in my isolation I undertook experiments that were consciously different from everything that I knew in painting. I experienced the pleasure of freedom in painting the most unconventional pictures. By a strange coincidence, perhaps out of pity and probably as a joke, I was given a catalogue with illustrations from an exhibition of Futurist painting. I now had before my eyes a mighty challenge directed towards that same good sense which so bored me. It was for me the same light that I had encountered as a child whenever I emerged from the underground vaults of the old cemetery where I spent my holidays."
In retrospect, the image of the little girl and little boy climbing out of an underground vault in which death is present, and then discovering a painter who is attempting to record his view of the cemetery on canvas, seems almost an advance announcement of Magritte's later career. The artist's childhood, and the dreams bound up with it, should not of course be regarded as the sole veritable key that enables us to gain access to the mysteries of creative output. It is clear that such pictures from the depths of the past cannot play a role in the creation of a work of art until they have been reappraised and reinvented with the help of and as a consequence of decisions taken, encounters made and coincidences experienced by the meanwhile mature artist. Given Magritte's concern to record in written form precisely this recollection, however, it is fair to assume that it contains elements which - in the manner of a kind of educative experience - serve to introduce us to the imaginary world of his work. The record of his childhood experience specifically mentions the sharp contrast between the view of the two children, who are in principle as far away as can be from the end of life, and the place where they are playing. A cemetery is the place par excellence in which one's memories of those no longer with us are preserved and cherished. It soon becomes clear that elements almost always appear in Magritte's pictures such as present a sharp contrast to each other, thereby triggering a shock which shakes the intellect out of its apathy and sets one to thinking. The simultaneity of day and night in his picture The Empire of Lights, probably his most famous work, makes this clear.
Georgette Berger; Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels 1913-1923
At the age of 15, Magritte met Georgette Berger, the girl who would be his future wife, model and creative muse. Here's an account of the meeting from History of Art:
"The monotony of everyday life in Charleroi was interrupted not only by the pleasures of the cinema but also by the annual fair, which took place at the Place du Manege opposite the Musee des Beaux-Arts, in direct proximity to the Palais des Beaux-Arts, home of one of Magritte's most famous frescoes, The Ignorant Fairy. The fair of 1913 was to confer a lustre upon his life for ever more. A merry-go-round salon stood between the stalls and various amusements, a fairground institution which is no longer to be found. After a turn on the wooden horses, the boys and girls would walk around hand in hand, to the strains of a Limonaire organ. This merry-go-round was among those places where boys and girls met to embark upon their first flirtations. Magritte, who was fifteen that year, invited a little girl not yet even thirteen to a round: Georgette. Her father was a butcher in Marcinelle. Love was clearly already in the air at their first rendezvous: while life was to separate the two of them for some time, they would find each other again in the end, thereafter never to be parted. When, following the death of Georgette's mother, neither she nor- even more so- her older sister, Leon-tine, could bear the thought of their widowed father remarrying, the sisters left Charleroi and moved to Brussels. They found work in an arts and crafts co-operative near the Grande Place, and settled down in the capital. Leontine married Pierre Hover, the owner of a business; Georgette, after initially remaining alone, met her Rene again in 1920 while they both were walking in the Botanical Gardens (today the Maison de la Culture). The two stayed together, and Georgette became his sole model. They were married in 1922, a year which surely represented the most decisive in Magritte's entire life, not only for the artist himself but also for the direction taken by his work."
A year later after he met Georgette, in 1915, he left her behind, when he quit high school and enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels to learn how to paint with all the "proper" techniques usually attributed to artists who worked in the figurative style, his plan was to master these techniques before breaking free of them. From then until 1920 he attended classes in Drawing, Decorative Painting and ornamental composition. Some of his early works were landscapes showing the Sambre river where his mother had committed suicide.
In 1919, Pierre-Louis Flouquet, a French artist living in Brussels, shared his workshop with René Magritte that he introduced to cubists and futurists; Magritte also got acquainted with the Antwerps avant-garde.
While studying at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Magritte met many artists who would influence his style, amongst them were E.L.T. Mesens, Pierre Flouquet, Paul Delvaux and Piérre Bourgeois. In 1918 when Rene began work as a poster and advertisement designer for a wallpaper company at Peters Lacroix, he met the painter Victor Servranckx, who had already turned to non-figurative art. Magritte worked under the supervision of Servranckx and they had become friends and colaborators. In 1919 Magritte’s first exhibit displayed his creations in advertising, not in painting. He exhibited two ads: one for Sherlock and the other for Monnaie Butterfly. The trade fair was organized by Víctor Bourgeois and Aimé Declerq at the Belgian Galerie Centre d’Art.
After lecture on the Dutch movement by abstractionist Theo van Doesburg titled De Stijl (The Style)in February 1920, Magritte began a series of paintings exploring those principles. Around the same time Servranckx and Magritte developed an artistic style based on purism and futurism they called Cubo-Futurist which in some ways was similar to Art Deco. Then in 1922 they wrote "Pure Art: A Defence of the Aesthetic." Here's an excerpt:
APPLIED ART KILLS PURE ART: The devastation caused by applied art is considerable. In order to survive many artists waste their time on the production of applied art objects which are sold on a large scale. These mediocre works tend to satisfy the aesthetic needs of mankind. As a result people lose interest in the pure works of art of these artists to the extent that they become unsaleable. Artists should be able to support themselves with their work. (Magritte and Servranckx- 1922)
Youth- 1924 shows Magritte alliance to futurism and the Italian artist Gino Severini (7 April 1883–26 February 1966), a leading member of the Futurist movement.
1925 Blue Cinema- By 1925 Magritte was emegering from his Cubo-Futurist style and heading towards his more mature style. This painting has an Art Deco feel to it.
That same year (1922), he made one of the most important artist discoveries of his carreer in Giorgio De Chirico's pre-surrealist works (194-1918). Rene and his friend ELT Mesens were shown a reproduction of De Chirico's The Song of Love in Les Cahiers Libres and he was so moved by the image that it moved him to tears. This provided true inspiration Magritte decided to make each of his painting a visual poem; a quality he found present in De Chirico's works.
Giorgio de Chirico- The Song of Love (1914)
According to legend Marcel Lecomte showed Magritte a reproduction of Giorgio de Chirico's painting The Song of Love (1914), and the image (above), illustrated in the Roman periodical Valori Plastici, is said to have moved him to tears. The strange juxtaposition of objects in de Chirico's work revealed to Magritte the poetic possibilities of painting, and thereafter he adopted a similar painting style.
Rene and his muse Georgette
In 1920 he met Georgette Berger Maison de la Culture, also a wallpaper artist, and they rekindled their interest in each other. She became his only model and muse. Magritte's best friend the time was the young poet Pierre Bourgeois, of whom he made several portraits.
Magritte briefly entered miltary service in 1921 and then married Georgette in 1922. Rene sold his first painting, a portrait of the singer Evelyne Brélia in 1923. He created his first really outstanding works which are characterized by Cubo-Futurist reminiscences and the presence of a very sensual representation in which women and colors are the dominant elements. He realised that resorting to abstraction has not enabled him to 'make reality manifest.' What he wants to establish is a disturbing relationship between the world and objects as found in de Chirico's work from 1914-1918.
ELT Mesens, Dada and Surealism
René Magritte's Portrait of E.L.T. Mesens, Rene's friend and sponsor
In the 1930s E. L. T. Mesens moved to England and by 1936 directed the London Gallery. He suggested that the English Surrealists had never been worth their salt anyway, having always abstained from such direct action as driving horses into theatre foyers on first nights of distasteful plays, or "letting off revolvers in the street while distributing leaflets." Here's a bio of Magritte's benefactor who bought 200 of his paintings at one time!
Fellow Belgian ELT Mesens (Edouard Léon Théodore) (1903–1971) met Magritte in 1920 and became Magritte's close friend and eventual sponsor. Mesens started his artistic career as a musician influenced by Erik Satie (through Rene's recommendation, Mesen became Paul Magritte's piano teacher) and an author of dadaist poems. He was a publisher of the books Œesophage and Marie, both with Magritte. His activity as one of the leaders of the surrealist movement in Belgium was eased by the fact that he was an owner of a gallery, where he organised the first surrealist exhibition in Belgium in 1934. As its organiser, he also went to co-organise the London International Surrealist Exhibition which made him settle down in London. There he became the director of the London Gallery (which he ran during the late 30s and after World War II with Roland Penrose) and the chief editor of the London Bulletin (1938-1940) - which was one of the most important bulletins among the English-language Surrealist periodicals. A biography of Mesens by George Melly, Don't Tell Sybil: An Intimate Memoir of E.L.T. Mesens, was published in 1997.
Magritte and Mesens were involved in many avant-garde political movements. Dada was a reaction against the politics that lead to First World War (1916) and remained a popular artistic movement until around 1924. Both men espoused Dadaism and shortly after they met in 1920 studied Marinetti's futurism pamphets. In late 1924 the Dada movement became aligned with Surrealism and Breton's publications in October 1924. Beside political influences the psychoanalytical dogmas of both Freud (dreams and imagery) and Jung (collective unconscious) played an important role in the imagery of dreams that was the foundation of surrealism. Breton went to Vienna to secure backing for the surrealist movement from Frued but failed to do so.
By the end of 1924 Magritte and E. L. T. Mesens helped form a unified Belgian Surrealist group that included Paul Nougé, Camille Goemans, and Louis Scutenaire, an early chronicler of Magritte's art. The Surrealists, who included writers and composers too, overturned conventional notions by exercising their unconscious impulses for creative effect, and Magritte's paintings often took on a bizarre, dream-like quality. Working at a rapid rate, he investigated these new non-formalist concerns. The poet Paul Nougé became the interpreter for the Belgian group of Andre Breton's Surrealist Manifesto published in October 1924.
In August 1925 the leader of surrealism and writer of the surrealist manifesto Andre Breton visted the Belgian group. Breton was not sure of Magritte's role in the new group and Rene's seemingly ordinary paintings of reality. As his friend the poet Paul Nougé, Magritte remained attached to Belgian Surrealism but had differences with some of Breton's points regarding automatism and actualization. Despite Breton's reservations of Rene, he still used Magritte's work on the covers of two of his 1934 publications.
Dadaistic and surrealistic poetry constituted an important artistic inspiration for Magritte. In 1925Magritte co-operated the magazines Aesophage and Marie, together with E.L.T. Mesens, Jean Arp, Francis Picabia, Schwitters, Tzara and Man Ray. His close with this group of Dadaists helped him decide that he will only paint objects with all their visible detail by placing them in situations which are unfamiliar to the spectator and abandons the qualities of pictorial art in favour of a colder style that portrays images from which all aestheticism had to be removed. Nocturne is one of the first works to reveal this change of emphasis. The work contains elements from the iconography that Magritte recognises for the first time and which he will use throughout his life: the painting within a painting, the bird in flight, the fire,& the stage curtain and the use of the wooden bilboquet.
Above is Magrittes 1926 Norine Ad- note his use of the iconic bilboquet which appears in many paintings
Norine Commercial Work
Norine was run by a charismatic couple: the cultural and intellectual polymath Paul-Gustave Van Hecke, who became a patron of Magritte's art, and the grande couturière Honorine “Norine” Deschrijver. They established their couture business during World War I. For the first time, a Belgian couture house created its own designs instead of buying them from Paris, and offered an attractive and highly original local alternative. After the war, they became one of the most important couture houses in the country. Their avant-garde designs boldly transcended the modest conventionality of Belgium. The national and, to some extent, international artistic intelligentsia were their customers. The history of Belgian avant-garde fashion begins with Norine.
Norine was a prominent representative of the Modernist movement in fashion. In fact, Van Hecke and Norine’s environment was entirely modern and was a hub of Surrealism and Expressionism: their private home, Van Hecke’s art galleries and journals and the couture house’s salons featured work by national and international contemporary artists. They firmly embedded art in fashion; this symbiosis with modern art gave their creations high art status. The couture house’s beautiful graphics were conceived by Belgian artists such as Frits Van den Berghe, Leon de Smet and—most importantly, by René Magritte. Also the techniques and imagery of modern art were literally incorporated into the house’s creations. Their signature dress of the second half of the 1920s, the “robe peinte” (painted dress) displayed hand-printed Art Deco motifs. A photograph from 1925 shows us a dress that was embroidered with a Raoul Dufy composition. In addition, Norine was unique in its pioneering use of Surrealist imagery with Modernist fashions. In 1927, the embroidery on a sports ensemble refers to the work of Max Ernst. When Surrealism in fashion became well established in the late 1930s, Norine turned to Ernst’s and Man Ray’s imagery for their embroideries. Among the few extant garments (only 8 so far), we have a blouse dating from this decade of which the print mimics the vocabulary of Surrealism.
Norine enjoyed its largest success during The Roaring 20s. Funded at the expense of Van Hecke’s art business, the couture house survived the world economic crisis of the early 1930s. Even during World War II, they continued to be influential. The late 1940s saw the decline of Norine. After a persevering struggle for survival, the Van Heckes officially closed their couture house in 1952.
During the 1850's in Europe, bilbo catchers or bilboquets became quite the rage for entertainment. The one shown here is of similar design and the principle is like the ball and cup. On one end of the shaft, the ball is caught in a shallow depression, requiring considerably more practice than in the ball & cup shown above. On the other end of the shaft, the hole in the ball is stuck on the pointed "spike" of the shaft. For those that thing the action cannot be done, we watched an interpreter at a historic site succeeding about 60 percent of the time on the cup end and about one out of three times on the spike end.
Creates His First Surreal Painting 1926- The Use of Words
Around 1926 Magritte saw two books of poems by Paul Eluard, illustrated by Max Ernst's superb collages. Magritte began producing surreal collages ala Max Ernst with repeated images (icons) like the balluster (also called a bilboquet: resembling a chess pawn or wooden table legs) and curtains. Whether some of these works are his first surreal works is open for debate.
At the time he worked as an assistant designer in a wallpaper factory, and was a poster and advertisement designer until 1926, when a contract with Galerie la Centaure in Brussels made it possible for him to paint full-time.The picture of The Lost Jockey from 1926 is the first work to which Magritte himself allowed the label "Surrealist" to be applied. However, there had already been initial signs beforehand heralding the artistic process for which he would later become famous. We will return to this later. The well-known bilboquets, for example, a form of baluster or oversize playing piece to which Max Ernst gave the beautiful, vivid name of "phallustrade", turn up again in the portrait of Georgette with Bilboquet , while the picture The Bather clearly demonstrates that Magritte had abandoned the Cubist technique in favour of a manner of creating pictures that was already fully Surrealist.
The Lost Jockey (Le jockey Perdu)- 1926
The Lost Jockey (Le jockey Perdu)- 1940
In 1926, Magritte produced his first surreal painting, The Lost Jockey (Le Jockey Perdu)that contrasted oversized balasters (resembling chess pieces) with a horse and rider. The ballusters are alive with fresh braches growing from their trunks and some are set on giant chess boards. There is a curtain on the right as if the horse is riding across the stage. The second image above is the 1940 rendition, the earlier work (seen first) is a collage.
At that time, through his association with Belgian surrealists Rene developed a profound dislike for the decorative arts. He later would state: "I detest my past, and anyone else's. I detest resignation, patience, professional heroism and obligatory beautiful feelings. I also detest the decorative arts, folklore, advertising, voices making announcements, aerodynamism, boy scouts, the smell of moth balls, events of the moment, and drunken people."
As early as 1926 in his painting La Miroir Vivant Magritte began placing words in his paintings. This marks a period of about ten years where he would use written words to provoke thought about the meaning of images and words.
For Magritte this established one of his fundamental concepts: representation, that art is a represntation of an image but not the image itself. Thus in his famous painting of a pipe he writes "This is not pipe" meaning that in fact it's just a painting of a pipe. The painting is a representation of a painting. Magritte contributed an article about words and images to Breton's 1929 La Revolution Surrealiste.
Magritte held his first one-man exhibit was in Brussels in 1927, and as it was with his contemporaries, his art drew the ire of the critics and the conservative art crowd. But what made Magritte's work so special was his incredible skill at painting realistic objects and figures. The critics could not deny his talent, nor could they dismiss his work as an exercise in "laisser-faire". Like De Chirico, and Dali, he was a true technician, and a technician with soul. What set him apart from the other surrealists was his technique of juxtaposing ordinary objects in an extraordinary way; while Dali would "melt" a watch, playing with the consistency of an object (amongst other things), Magritte would leave objects intact, but play with their placement in reality, playing with logic. This technique is sometimes called Magic Realism. Of course, what really upset the critics was that Magritte's art did not provide answers, but only confusion, and questions as to why...
Magritte and Nouge designed advertising catalogues for the Samuel Furrier company (the first for the 1926- 27 season, the second for 1928). Magritte supplied the images and Nouge the words.
After Magritte's first one-man show, in Brussels in 1927, was a critical failure, he moved to the Surrealist center, Paris, befriending poet Paul Eluard and André Breton, spokesman for the movement. Salvador Dali, and other artists and writers who were part of the surrealist movement also lived there. At the time Gala, who was Paul Eluard's wife, lived with Max Ernst and her husband. Paul and Gala brought Ernst to Paris in 1922. The Magritte's who became close friends with Paul Eluard helped him when Gala, who had broken off her affair with Ernst left Eluard for Dali in 1929.
Breton released his two Surrealist manifestoes in 1924 and 1929, and between these years the movement was perhaps at its most exuberant. One main inspirational source for the Surrealists was the literature of Isidore Ducasse, alias the Comte de Lautréamont, who around 1870 had written that nothing is "as beautiful a…. the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table." Later, in 1948, Magritte illustrated Lautréamont's complete works with 77 drawings which rivaled the text in strangeness.
The images and techniques of the movies were an influence on Magritte, especially the French film anti-hero Fantômas, a master of crime and disguise. Many of Magritte's works at this time, in keeping with Surrealist practices, disclosed a sinister side of human personality, as in Pleasure (1926) or The Threatened Assassin (1926-1927). Magritte met Salvadore Dali in the spring of 1929 for the filming of Un Chien Andalou. In 1929 Cadaquès, Spain, the Magritte family stays at the Dali's in the company of Paul and Gala Eluard. Magritte contributed to the final issue of the "Révolution Surréaliste."
"Psychoanalysis has nothing to say, not even about works of art, which evoke the mystery of the world. Perhaps psychoanalysis itself represents the best case for psychoanalysis." Magritte regarded it as a pseudo-science of the unconscious, a criminological and ideological starting point. As Michel Foucault - with whom Magritte had an interesting and instructive correspondence - succinctly explained, psychoanalysis aims at finally confirming existential repression by restricting desire to the family triangle, to the legally legitimized married couple. In psychoanalysis, love always means Daddy, Mummy and me! Magritte was a Surrealist from the depths of his being through his sense of amour fou, once writing: "Happy is he who betrays his own convictions for the love of a woman." He opposed Freud's theses, automatist experiences based upon the power of the unconscious, and everything that all too often in the circle around Andre Breton, the artist, threatened to become dogma and law. It was unavoidable that those artists who were obviously permeated by Surrealism would be excluded sooner or later from the Surrealist movement. Andre Masson had realized this, and himself demanded his own exclusion. Breton's reply to this was remarkable: "Why? I have never exerted any pressure upon you." "Proof, retorted Masson, "that you have exerted it upon others." Magritte, for his part, to whom Breton had written indignantly, "Your dialectics and your Surrealism enplein soleil are threadbare", answered, "Sorry, Breton, but the invisible thread is on your bobbin."
It would be possible to mention further anecdotes in this context; however, this would only do harm to the deep unanimity which served to weld together this little group of inspired people despite their various divergences, childish acts and comments.
Philosophical and Artistic Gestures
The Treachery of Images, 1928-1929 A consummate technician, his work frequently displays a juxtaposition of ordinary objects in an unusual context, giving new meanings to familiar things. The representational use of objects as other than what they seem is typified in his painting, The Treachery of Images (La trahison des images), which shows a pipe that looks as though it is a model for a tobacco store advertisement. Magritte painted below the pipe "This is not a pipe" (Ceci n'est pas une pipe), which seems a contradiction, but is actually true: the painting is not a pipe, it is an image of a pipe. It does not "satisfy emotionally" – when Magritte once was asked about this image, he replied that of course it was not a pipe, just try to fill it with tobacco.
Magritte used the same approach in a painting of an apple: he painted the fruit realistically and then used an internal caption or framing device to deny that the item was an apple. In these Ceci n'est pas works, Magritte points out that no matter how closely, through realism-art, we come to depicting an item accurately, we never do catch the item itself.
The Break From Paris-The incident with Breton- 1929
On Dec. 14th, 1929 Magritte and Georgette were attending a dinner party at Andre Breton's house, when Breton made a comment about a cross Georgette wore around her neck. According to legend Breton (there are several versions of this event and it is generally accepted not accurate) asked that she remove the cross, a family keepsake. The Magritte's quickly left the party and the incident cause a riff between them and Breton. They broke away from the Paris surrealists and soon moved back to Brussells. This legend has been perpetuated over the years by various authors including Suzi Gablik and Pollizotti. The facts are that this minor may have been upsetting the relationship between Breton and the Magrittes along with some of the Belgium group was already strained. The Magritte's friendship with Eluard whose wife Gala left him for Dali also helped deepen the riff between the Magrittes and the Parisian group since Dali was now a central figure.
Here's a more accurate account from History of Art: One evening, when Georgette and Rene Magritte were in a taxi with Paul Eluard on their way to a meeting of the Surrealist group, Eluard drew Georgette's attention to the small golden cross which she was wearing around her neck, advising her to hide it since Breton would be sure to take offence at it. She refused, and "The Pope" indeed made reference to the un-Surrealist character of the object, prompting Magritte to decide that he and his wife would forthwith stay away from these meetings. The whole affair had blown over by the next day, however, and the Magrittes continued to attend the gatherings, along with Breton, Dali, Miro, Max Ernst and the others, while Georgette went on wearing the keepsake from her mother around her neck. With regard to relations within the group, persistent legends occasionally have a tendency to magnify small, harmless disagreements out of all proportion. The only thing of importance here is that Magritte's work is decisively Surrealist.
Magritte still waits to have a one-man exhibition but Paris is in the midst of recession after the 1929 Great Depression. The effect of the economic crisis is all too apparent to the artist. His friend Goemans is forced to close his Paris gallery and collectors and galleries become bankrupt. Magritte no longer has a steady income and his relationship with Breton has deteriorated as a result of their different interpretaions of Surrealism and what path if any it is taking. Discouraged, Magritte returns to Brussels and turns to commercial work returned to Brussells in July 1930 and the Belgium group continued to publish articles through Mesens. They remained coordial to but separate from the Paris group.
135 Esseghem Street, Jette (outskirts of Brussels)- July 1930
Magritte and his wife Georgette lived here for over two decades. They arrived in 1930, when the artist was 32, and stayed until 1954 when they moved to Schaerbeek, a suburb to the east of Jette. Magritte had already spent three years in Paris, meeting and working with others in the surrealist movement, such as Salvador Dali, but a disagreement with the movement's unofficial philosopher, André Breton, and a lack of buyers for his work, drew him back to his native Belgium.
Jette is now squeezed between the district of Heysel, with its stadium, and the "royal" suburb of Laeken (so called because the Belgian royal family has its home here, a splendid palace closed to the public). But in the 1930s, it was on the edge of the countryside. Magritte made his home here in order to be close to his brother, Paul, a pianist, and to his wife's family. He rented the ground-floor flat in order to have a garden for his dogs. But he also made use of the space to build a studio. From here, he and his brother ran their own company, Studio Dongo. They produced illustrations, advertising artwork and covers for musical scores as a means of making money while Magritte was selling few of his paintings.
The decorative taste in the house reflects Magritte's love of colour, with walls of pink and green, and a wardrobe and wooden chest, both designed by Magritte and painted bright red. Magritte made extensive use of his surroundings when he painted. The fireplace, the doors separating the sitting room from the bedroom, the windows at the front of the house, all feature in his paintings. The staircase was used, too, although in real life, unlike art, it leads to the floor above rather than coming to an abrupt halt.
The years spent in Jette were among Magritte's most prolific, and artistically his most creative, even though he met with little financial success. He painted half of his 1,600 canvases in the modest dining room that doubled up as his studio, and was also the centre of the Belgian surrealist movement.
Studio Dongo 1931-1935
After Magritte was back in Brussels in 1930, during those difficult Great Depression years, Magritte and his brother Paul set up an advertising company, Studio Dongo, named after Fabrice Del Dongo. It soon turned into a full-time professional activity for Magritte. It must be noted, however, that this activity was secondary: Magritte took it up only because he was in financial difficulty. Unfortunately, many of Magritte’s projects were rejected, and he destroyed some of them himself. Because of that, he suffered from a depression and began to hate his job. The Studio Dongo adverts faithfully follow the rules of advertising: their messages are neutral and simple. Magritte’s only concern was for efficacy, transparency, and clarity, and this is reflected in the simplicity of the ads, which simply feature the name of the brand and an illustration.The René Magritte museum is located in the house where the famous surrealistic artist lived and worked for 24 years. After 3 years in Paris, René and Georgette Magritte returned to Brussels in July 1930 and rented an apartment in the 135 Esseghem Street, Jette (outskirts of Brussels). Magritte occupied the ground floor and the garden.
In 1931 he built at the back of his garden the Studio Dongo, where he worked on his publicity projects. It was in the dining room-studio that he painted most of the time and where he created nearly half of all his paintings and gouaches. It was in this modest room that Magritte’s most creative period took place, which led to many masterworks. And that's why several elements of the house are integrated in the painter’s works.
The 135, Esseghem Street was also the headquarter of the Belgian surrealists. The painter’s friends met here weekly and organized all kinds of performances. These meetings resulted into many subversive activities, books, magazines and tracts.
It is in this house that Magritte knew his “Renoir” period, his “Vache” period and negotiations regarding exhibitions in museums. All these activities are illustrated on the first and second floors of the museum by original works, documents, objects, letters and photos. On the third floor, one can have a view of the painter’s attic.
Besides, some 30 drawings, gouaches, paintings of Magritte punctuate the journey, among which "Olympia", "La lampe d'Aladin" or "Lola de Valence", one of the best pieces of his "période vache".
This house which Magritte left in 1954 was restored between 1993 and 1999 and became a museum to pay a permanent homage to one of the most brilliant artists of all time. Although Magritte showed twice at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in the 1930s (a one-man show of 59 works in 1933, followed by a group show with Man Ray and Yves Tanguy in 1937), he was temporarily left without a commercial outlet for his paintings on the closure of Le Centaure in 1930. The gallery’s stock of 200 recent paintings by Magritte was purchased by his friend E. L. T. Mesens, who moved in 1938 to London, where he became director of the London Gallery. Through Mesens, Magritte gained greater recognition in Great Britain.
When Edward James took over Magritte's Dongo Studio company around 1936, Magritte quit and devoted himself entirely to painting. Thanks to his English patron, Magritte’s art came to be recognized internationally. Consequently, when companies began to contact Magritte, it was the not the publicist they wanted to hire; they were after the painter. Under those circumstances, it is unsurprising to find that some of the Belgian artist’s ads were inspired directly by his canvases. For example, the design used for a New York perfume company, Mem, is an elaborate version of his painting La clef des songes.
Although he admired de Chirico, who found poetry in the combination of normally unrelated objects, Magritte preferred to examine unexpected encounters between objects already in some way associated with each other. In the winter of 1932–3, for instance, he painted a birdcage containing an enormous egg, titling it Elective Affinities (priv. col.; see Waldberg, p. 228), after Goethe’s novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809). Often taking his titles from literature, films and musical scores on the completion of the picture, he invited friends, notably the writers Paul Nougé and Louis Scutenaire, to make suggestions. While the titles of his first Surrealistic paintings maintained a certain logic in relation to the imagery, from the 1930s words and images gradually acquired greater independence from each other, often retaining only an associative link. For example, he entitled a miniature reproduction in plaster of the Venus de Milo, a torso admired as the expression of feminine beauty in spite of the fact that it has no arms, the Copper Handcuffs (h. 370 mm, 1936; Paris, Charles Ratton priv. col.; see 1978–9 exh. cat., no. 200). Magritte continued to make frequent use of abstract forms, particularly in paintings that included texts, such as Bel Canto (1938; priv. col.; see Waldberg, p. 166), until the late 1930s. As a means of broadening the range of association, he sometimes represented an object undergoing metamorphosis into something else, as in the Red Model (1935; e.g. Stockholm, Mod. Mus.; Paris, Pompidou), in which the pointed toes of a pair of boots become the toes themselves. Such strategies, drawing attention to the relationship between inanimate and living objects, were similar to those employed by other Surrealists
The Human Condition, 1935- The Painting Within a Painting
The Human Condition- 1935
Magritte challenges the difficulty of artwork to convey meaning with a recurring motif of an easel (painting within a painting), as in his The Human Condition series (1933, 1935) or The Promenades of Euclid (1955) (wherein the spires of a castle are "painted" upon the ordinary streets which the canvas overlooks). He wrote to André Breton about The Human Condition that it was irrelevant if the scene behind the easel was different than what was depicted upon it, "but the main thing was to eliminate the difference between a view seen from outside and from inside a room." The windows in these pictures are framed with heavy drapes, suggesting a theatrical motif. Just as theatre reflects our lives, or ideal replications of our lives, to an audience simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar with the situation, so does Magritte's artwork.
Edward James was an eccentric poet, collector, and patron of both Dalí and Magritte. In 1935 James visited Salvador and Gala at their home in Catalonia. Dali was invited to London to help decorate the Monkton house in Chelsea with surreal furnishings and paintings. Through an introduction from Dali, Magritte also was consulted about the interior designs. The famous lobster telephone came from James collaborations. James remained an important supporter and collector of Magritte's work and Magritte stayed with him on several occasions in London.
1939-1940 Marital Difficulties- World War II Approaches
On his trips to London to visit James and Mesens to prepare for his exhibitions, Rene had an affair with the young surrealist model known as the "Surrealist Phantom" of 1936, the artist Sheila Legg (in her mid-20s), who posed for surrealist events with Dali and others and was one of the most photographed surrealist woman at the time. Apparently this started in March 1937. As a result, Magritte himself paid several visits to London in order to work in connection with Sheila Legg. According to one source: "Magritte, in fact, fell in love with her."
A 1936 Time Magaszine article reported: [Highlight of the exhibition was Artist Salvador Dali's living design, Phantom of Sex Appeal, for which Artist Sheila Legge solemnly glided through the crowded, stuffy gallery in a tight white satin gown, her head in a wire cage covered with pink paper rosebuds, a facsimile female leg in her hand. She had substituted the leg for a pork chop prescribed by Artist Dali.
"That get-up," a bystander whispered, "must be very hot." "Very," admitted Phantom Legge.]
Legge, who was very hot in more ways than one, was also pursued by ELT Mesens, close friend of Magritte and Director of the London Gallery. Mesens wanted her to be his secretary.
Magritte did not want to hurt Georgette or arouse her suspicions, so he arranged for his friend, Paul Colinet (1898-1957) a Belgian surrealist poet, to spend time with Georgette and keep her entertained. While Magritte was away Georgette and Paul Colinet had an affair. Georgette, much to everyone's astonishment, pursued her affair and at one point asked Rene for a divorce.
Rene Magritte fled Brussels and his marital problems for France in May 1940, five days after German troops invaded Belgium and Holland. Georgette did not go with him. Magritte spent three months in Carcassonne, France,
with Paul Eluard and Scutenaire. When conditions allowed, Magritte returned to Brussels and reconciled with Georgette. At this point Magritte became depressed and experimented with different style perhaps to escape his emotional demons.
1940s- A Time of Change
In order to show the 'bright side of life', Magritte changed his style and began to paint the leaf-birds which we see in two works from 1942, Treasure Island and The Companions of Fear. His new style was called "Surrealism in full sunlight" (Torczyner 186) or the "Sunlit" period.
Treasure Island- 1942
Within a year he became obsessed by a reproduction of Pierre Auguste Renoir's Bathers which started his impressionistic transformation. Enticed by the sensuality of the colors, he opted for a more luminous palette. His objects and figures were looser lacking the meticulousness detail for which he was known, unleashing color in new, warmer and more cheerful tonalities.
In the 1940s Magritte again joined the communist party, which he had joined for the third time. Magritte's political involvement was based essentially upon his spirit of opposition. All of his poster designs were rejected on principle by the party leadership, and he could not bear having to subordinate his art to an ideological party line, even one so broadly conceived. "There is no more reason for art to be Walloon than for it to be vegetarian", was his reply to those seeking to enlist him for exhibitions aimed at demonstrating regionalist interests. Ultimately, his sole, his real banner was the mystery inherent in objects, in the world, that mystery which belongs to everyone and to no one.
In 1947 Alexander Iolas, who became Magritte's principal dealer in the United States, successfully exhibits the artist's work in New York. Iolas then suggests that Magritte forget Renoir and focus his output on images which overwhelmingly appealed to the public, like Treasure Island. Obligated to come to terms with the necessities of life, Magritte creats new combinations out of old images. he became internationally famous only after signing a contract in 1948 with Alexandre Iolas, the New York dealer who remained his agent until his death. He produced several privately commissioned portraits and from 1951 to 1961 also executed one ceiling painting and three wall paintings, for which he adapted motifs from his easel pictures. Having experimented from the 1920s with black-and-white still photography, borrowing subjects from his paintings in order to record unconventional staged situations, from 1956 he also made a number of brief and often comical Surrealist films, using friends as directors and actors. In 1967 he produced a series of wax sculptures based on his paintings; eight of these, including Madame Récamier (Paris, Pompidou), after the painting by Jacques-Louis David, but with an L-shaped coffin in place of the high society figure, were cast in bronze after his death.
Later that decade, Magritte experimented with a brash Fauve-inspired style (1948) dubbed "Vache" (literally, cow), which he premiered at an exhibition at the Galerie du Faubourg, in Paris. Of course, by then, his fans had grown accustomed to his previous style, and did not appreciate the new direction he was taking. Discouraged by horrible reviews, he returned to his trademark technique, a sad bit of irony, especially in light of Magritte's contempt for the nostalgic.
Man Ray exhibited with Magritte in Trois peintures surrealistes: Rene Magritte, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, December 1937. ELT Mesens moved to London and on April 1, 1938 the London Gallery reopened under his directorship. Mesens managed to organize solo exhibitions at the Gallery for many of his surrealist friends including Magritte. Mesens gallery mission statement read "painters of the surrealist movement will be the principle feature of this gallery."
The first Surrealist Exhibition took place in London in July 1936. In 1937 Magritte was visited back to London by James to add surreal elements to his house on Wimpole St. The paintings by Magritte included La Modele Rouge II, La Jeunesse Illustre, and two portraits of James, one of which was La Reproduction Interdite.
Magritte completed Megalomania in 1948 which reveals similarities with The Marches of Summer(1938-1939): a female torso (now in three parts), weightless cubes, blue sky with clouds and a parapet.
The Domain of Arnheim, a work originally painted in 1936 is repainted in 1949. Magritte enjoys the game of juxtaposing and manipulating motifs. An image could exercise such powers of seduction that the painter felt compelled to reproduce it many times. Rather than falling into repetitive indifference, he excels in revisiting work in this way. Nowhere is this more evident than in The Dominion of Light, an evocation of the simultaneous presence of day and night, a magnetization of the contradictions dear to the Surrealists. There are sixteen versions of this work.
From 1950 onwards he is commissioned to produce some large canvasses for Edward James, a patron of surrealism in London and was also hired in 1953 to create some murals for the Casino at Knokke-Le-Zoute. The resulting mural The Enchanted Realm, reprised various themes from his iconographic repertoire. From 1952-56 Rene also becomes the director of a new artist review publication called "La carte d'après nature".
Among the paintings of this period one that gained a lot of interest was Golconda, which featured bowler hatted men in raincoats floating weightlessly in a blue sky in front of houses. The bowler hatted men although being seen before becomes his trade mark emblem and is present in many of his future works. These type of images remain through out the rest of his career.
Later Years 1960-67
In later years, he was commissioned to create large canvasses for Edward James in London, and later on, he is hired to paint murals for the casino at Knokke-le-Zoute. His hobbies are amateur cinematography and chess, and he enjoys taking walks with his wife and his dog, Lou-Lou. In 1965, New York's Metropolitan Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art hold retrospectives of his work Magritte refers to his work of the latest period (1958-1965) as his 'found children'. The iconographic elements, between them, in a reverting manner, finished by binding everything together in the last ten years of Magritte's life. Magritte is in poor health, and exhausted from his travels to the US. A year later, he spends Christmas and New Year's Eve in Cannes, with his beloved Georgette, and in 1967, he has a retrospective in Rotterdam, Holland, and an exhibit at the Iolas Gallery in Paris.
Magritte died of pancreatic cancer on August 15, 1967 and was interred in Schaarbeek Cemetery, Brussels. Popular interest in Magritte's work rose considerably in the 1960s, and his imagery has influenced pop, minimalist and conceptual art. In 2005 he came 9th in the Walloon version of De Grootste Belg (The Greatest Belgian); in the Flemish version he was 18th.
Rene Magritte, two months before his death, wrote Sarane Alexandrian a splendid letter in which he said: 'I conceive of the art of painting as the science of juxtaposing colours in such a way that their actual appearance disappears and lets a poetic image emerge. . . . There are no "subjects", no "themes" in my painting. It is a matter of imagining images whose poetry restores to what is known that which is absolutely unknown and unknowable.'
Magritte continued painting until 1967, the year of his death, leaving an unfinished painting (below). The work had been commissioned by a young German collector from Cologne, who wanted "something in the nature of Empire of the Lights; he was destined never to take possession of the picture he had ordered. The uncompleted painting would remain on its easel in the painter's house in Brussels until the death of Georgette Magritte in 1986.
Magritte's last unfinished painting: The Empire of the Lights- 1967
René Magritte described his paintings by saying, "My painting is visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, "What does that mean?" It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."
The influence of the Fantomas figure also played a significant role in Magritte's selection of titles for his pictures. Patrick Waldberg has been able to provide evidence of the considerable importance of the titles of Magritte's pictures within his work as a whole, where their purpose may be seen as providing a counterpoint to realistic perception. For instance, the woman in the feathered hat, her face hidden by a bunch of violets, should be seen as The Great War, as an incessant conflict with that which is visible, where each object always hides another. In revealing itself, an object simultaneously conceals itself, thereby functioning as the curtain for another. Magritte was always deeply conscious of this tightrope walk between revelation and masking. Things have a flip side, a reverse, which is even more curious and fascinating than their manifested form, the facade presented to everyone, their face; and it was this reverse, this dark side, which Magritte so subtly captured and rendered visible, in defiance of all logic. Accordingly, the titles of his pictures never serve to describe or identify. On the contrary, they bring some additional infringement, some further false trail, into play, the function of which is to create a confrontation within language and the logic of words, one analogous to the confrontation arising out of the painted picture. Magritte's work is certainly representational, and yet, at the same time, it constitutes an incessant attack upon the principle of reproduction in art. What his figures thereby lose in identity, they gain in mystery and otherness. Mystery finds its way into the everyday in Magritte's art, while subversive thought becomes gentle custom. Joy is constant; every moment is a festival.
In Popular Culture
The 1960s brought a great increase in public awareness of Magritte's work. One of the means by which his imagery became familiar to a wider public was through reproduction on rock album covers; early examples include the 1969 album Beck-Ola by the Jeff Beck group (reproducing Magritte's The Listening Room), Jackson Browne's 1974 album, Late for the Sky, with artwork inspired by Magritte's L'Empire des Lumières, and the Firesign Theatre's album Just Folks . . . A Firesign Chat based on The Mysteries of the Horizon. Alan Hull of UK folk-rock band Lindisfarne used Magritte's paintings on two solo albums in 1973 and 1979. Styx adapted Magritte's Carte Blanche for the cover of their 1977 album The Grand Illusion, while the cover of Gary Numan's 1979 album The Pleasure Principle, like John Foxx's 2001 The Pleasures of Electricity, was based on Magritte's painting Le Principe du Plaisir.
Jethro Tull mentions Magritte on a 1976 album and Paul Simon's song "Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War" appears on the 1983 album Hearts and Bones. Paul McCartney, a life-long fan of Magritte, owns many of his paintings, and claims that a Magritte painting inspired him to use the name Apple for the Beatles' media corporation. Magritte is also the subject and title of a John Cale song on the 2003 album HoboSapiens.
The Son of Man, 1964
Numerous films have included imagery inspired by Magritte. The Son of Man, in which a man's face is obscured by an apple, is referenced in the 1992 film Toys, the 1999 film The Thomas Crown Affair and in the 2004 short film Ryan. In the 2004 film I Heart Huckabees, Magritte is alluded to by Bernard Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman) as he holds a bowler hat. According to Ellen Burstyn, in the 1998 documentary The Fear of God: 25 Years of "The Exorcist", the iconic poster shot for the film The Exorcist was inspired by Magritte's L'Empire des Lumières.
The Spanish television show El Planeta Imaginario (1983–1986) dedicated two episodes to René Magritte: "M, el extraño viajero" (M, the strange traveller) and "La Quimera" (The Chimera).
Magritte's painting The Treachery of Images is referred to in The Forbidden Game: The Chase, a book by L. J. Smith, in which the difference between image and reality becomes key to solving the entire conflict. The same painting (and its caption, "This is not a pipe") inspired a graphic in the video game Rayman Raving Rabbids. The online game Kingdom of Loathing refers to this painting, as well as to The Son of Man.
Artists influenced by Magritte
Contemporary artists have been greatly influenced by René Magritte's stimulating examination of the fickleness of images. Some artists who have been influenced by Magritte's works include John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Vija Celmins, Marcel Broodthaers and Martin Kippenberger. Some of the artists' works integrate direct references and others offer contemporary viewpoints on his abstract fixations.
Selected Works in Chronological Order
1922 The Station and L'Écuyère
1923 Self-portrait, Sixth Nocturne, Georgette at the Piano and Donna
1925 The Bather and The Window
1926 The Lost Jockey, The Mind of the Traveler, Sensational News, The Difficult Crossing, The Vestal's Agony, The Midnight Marriage, The Musings of a Solitary Walker, After the Water the Clouds, Popular Panorama, Landscape and The Encounter
1927 Young Girl Eating a Bird, The Oasis (started in 1925), The Meaning of Night, Let Out of School, The Man from the Sea, The Tiredness of Life, The Light-breaker, A Passion for Light, The Menaced Assassin, Reckless Sleeper, La Voleuse, The Fast Hope, L'Atlantide and The Muscles of the Sky
1928 The Lining of Sleep (started in 1927), Intermission (started in 1927), The Flowers of the Abyss, Discovery, The Lovers I & II , The Voice of Space, The Daring Sleeper, The Acrobat's Ideas, The Automaton, The Empty Mask, Reckless Sleeper, The Secret Life and Attempting the Impossible
1929 The Treachery of Images (started in 1928), Threatening Weather and On the Threshold of Liberty
1930 Pink Belles, Tattered Skies, The Eternally Obvious, The Lifeline, The Annunciation and Celestial Perfections
1931 The Voice of the Air, Summer and The Giantess
1932 The Universe Unmasked
1933 Elective Affinities, The Human Condition and The Unexpected Answer
1934 The Rape
1935 The Discovery of Fire, The Human Condition, Revolution, Perpetual Motion, Collective Invention, The False Mirror and The Portrait
1936 Clairvoyance, The Healer, The Philosopher's Lamp, Spiritual Exercises, Portrait of Irène Hamoir, La Méditation and Forbidden Literature
1937 The Future of Statues,The Black Flag, Not to be Reproduced, Portrait of Edward James and Portrait of Rena Schitz, On the Threshold of Liberty
1938 Time Transfixed, The Domain of Arnheim and Steps of Summer
1940 The Return, The Wedding Breakfast and Les Grandes Espérances
1941 The Break in the Clouds
1942 Misses de L'Isle Adam, L'Ile au Tréson, Memory, Black Magic and The Misanthropes
1943 Universal Gravitation and Monsieur Ingres's Good Days
1944 The Good Omens
1945 Treasure Island, Les Rencontres Naturelles and Black Magic
1946 L'Intellience and Les Mille et une Nuits
1947 The Cicerone, The Liberator, The Fair Captive, La Part du Feu and The Red Model
1948 Blood Will Tell, Memory, The Mountain Dweller, The Art of Life, The Pebble, The Lost Jockey, God's Solon, Shéhérazade, L'Ellipse and Famine and The Taste of Sorrow
1949 Megalomania, Elementary Cosmogany, and Perspective, the Balcony
1950 Making an Entrance, The Legend of the Centuries, Towards Pleasure, The Labors of Alexander, The Empire of Light II, The Fair Captive and The Art of Conversation
1951 David's Madame Récamier (parodying the Portrait of Madame Récamier), Pandora's Box, The Song of the Violet, The Spring Tide and The Smile
1952 Personal Values and Le Sens de la Pudeur
1953 Golconda, The Listening Room and a fresco for the Knokke Casino
1954 The Invisible World, The Explanation and The Empire of Light
1955 Memory of a Journey and The Mysteries of the Horizon
1956 The Sixteenth of September
1957 The Fountain of Youth and The Enchanted Domain
1958 The Golden Legend, Hegel's Holiday, The Banquet and The Familiar World
1959 The Castle in the Pyrenees, The Battle of the Argonne, The Anniversary, The Month of the Grape Harvest and The Glass Key
1960 The Memoirs of a Saint
1962 The Great Table, The Healer, Waste of Effort, Mona Lisa (circa 1962) and L'embeillie (circa 1962)
1963 The Great Family, The Open Air, The Beautiful Season, Princes of the Autumn, Young Love, La Recherche de la Vérité and The Telescope
1964 Evening Falls, The Great War, The Son of Man and Song of Love
1965 Carte Blanche, The Thought Which Sees, Ages Ago and The Beautiful Walk (circa 1965)
1966 The Shades, The Happy Donor, The Gold Ring, The Pleasant Truth and The Mysteries of the Horizon
1967 Les Grâces Naturelles, La Géante, The Blank Page, Good Connections, The Art of Living and several bronze sculptures based on Magritte's previous works.