Magritte and the birth of Surrealism

Born in 1898, Magritte is considered as one of the key players in the surrealism movement. Focus on this renowned artist as the most important Belgian artist of the 20th century.

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Magritte was born in 1898 in Lessines in Belgium. After the suicide of his mother, he was educated by governesses and moved house repeatedly. During the adolescence the young René started to paint in the style of the impressionists. He enrolled at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels then worked in the studio of Pierre-Louis Flouquet who introduced him to futurism and cubism. Then he began to show his work and started to draw at the same time. Happy and content, he married his childhood sweetheart Georgette Berger.

From 1924 he was seduced by Dadaism and he founded a magazine with some artist friends. Several years later, he and some new members became the surrealist Group of Brussels. Together they accomplished several advertising projects and illustrated catalogues for Belgian brands.

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His meeting with the Parisian surrealists André Breton, Salvador Dali, Paul Eluard and Max Ernst was decisive in his search for his identity. He continued with his writings and illustrations but the economic crisis of 1929 forced him to return to Belgium. In Brussels he met up again with his advertising contacts but continued to create and show his own works, this time as far away as London and New York. During the 1940’s Magritte was especially verbose creating the equivalent of about fifty works in a few weeks. During his many travels in the 1950’s, Magritte saw his ratings soar and his popularity increase. Suffering from cancer, he died in 1967 at home where his heart lay in Brussels.

The best known works of Magritte are his surrealism paintings. The artist aimed to separate the object from its norm and purpose. His best known picture shows a pipe with a caption “This is not a pipe”. Speaking with a viewer, he replied to the questions by saying : “The famous pipe, haven’t I been reproached enough for that! Anyway, can you fill my pipe ? No, you can’t, it’s just a representation. So if I had written on my picture “this is a pipe”, I would have been lying!”

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For Magritte, it is the action of the painter toward the object which is interesting. The painting is not a representation of a real object but rather a representation of the thought of the artist toward the object. “The art of painting is really only limited by a depiction of an idea which shows a certain resemblance to the way it is seen by the world”he declared. Magritte excelled in the depiction of mental images and created works which transformed reality and confused the viewer. His painting is never a mirror of the reality which surrounds us, it is a mirror of the reality which he imagines.

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What is interesting, is to draw a parallel between the relatively “classical” and traditional life style of the painter and the totally innovative style of painting. As a viewer, one often imagines the artist as the image of his creations. However, appearances are often misleading. Behind the off-beat works of Magritte, there is hidden a discrete, rational and deeply “normal” man.