René Magritte

Summary

René Magritte, born November 21, 1898 in Lessines (Belgium) and died August 15, 1967 in Brussels, is a Belgian surrealist painter.

Youth

René François Ghislain Magritte is the son of Léopold Magritte, tailor. The family moved first to Soignies, then to Saint-Gilles, Lessines, where René Magritte was born, and in 1900 returned to Régina”s mother”s home in Gilly, where his two brothers Raymond (1900-1970) and Paul (1902-1975) were born. In 1904, his parents moved to Châtelet where, after having worked in various jobs, the painter”s father became rich the following year by becoming general inspector of the De Bruyn company, which produced oil and margarine. René Magritte attended elementary school there for six years and the first year of his secondary education. In 1910 he also took a painting course in the studio of Félicien Defoin (1869-1940), an artist born in Doische and established in Châtelet. He was particularly interested in the adventures of Zigomar, Buffalo Bill, Texas Jack, Nat Pinkerton, the Nickel Pieds, and from 1911 onwards he was fascinated by the character of Fantomas. At the Charleroi Exhibition, he discovers the same year the cinema, impressed by the posters of the films but also of the advertisements, as well as the photography.

René Magritte”s father was a runner, violently anti-clerical and spendthrift, while his mother was a fervent Catholic. Depressed, she committed suicide by drowning in the Sambre River in February 1912. But Magritte, unlike his later surrealist associates, notably Salvador Dalí and André Breton, will always be opposed, not to say resistant, to psychoanalysis. According to him, art does not need interpretations but commentaries, so the artist”s childhood could not be called upon to understand his productions.

All four of them were held responsible for this tragedy by their entourage because of their antics. Magritte and his two brothers left Châtelet with their father to settle in Charleroi in March 1913. The children”s education was entrusted to a governess, Jeanne Verdeyen, whom Léopold Magritte married in 1928. René Magritte continued his studies at the city”s Athénée and read Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Maurice Leblanc and Gaston Leroux. His father having given him a Pathé camera, he creates small drawn films. During his vacations with his father”s family, who owned a shoe store in Soignies, he liked to play with a little girl in a disused cemetery and visit the underground vaults. In August 1913, at the Charleroi fair, he met a twelve-year-old girl, Georgette Berger, whose father was a butcher in Marcinelle. They met regularly on their way to school but lost touch with each other at the beginning of the 1914-1918 war.

Charleroi being occupied by the German army, the family returns to Châtelet where Magritte”s father continues to work as a representative for Maggi”s Kub broth. It was at the end of 1914 or at the beginning of 1915 that Magritte produced his first painting of more than one and a half meters by almost two meters, based on a chromo depicting horses fleeing a burning stable, offering his later paintings to his friends. In October 1915 he abandoned his studies and moved to Brussels, rue du Midi, not far from the Academy of Fine Arts, where he planned to attend classes as an auditor. Before entering, he painted impressionist style paintings.

The beginnings

From October 1916 to 1919, Magritte attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels more or less regularly, where he took classes with Emile Vandamme-Sylva, the symbolist Constant Montald and Gisbert Combaz, a poster artist of the Art Nouveau style. Among his students was Paul Delvaux. Magritte also participated in the literature courses given by Georges Eekhoud, whom he supported after his dismissal. His family settled in Brussels in December 1916, and after returning to Châtelet for a few months in 1917, he worked in 1919 and 1920 in a rented studio with Pierre-Louis Flouquet, whom he had met, like Charles Alexandre, at the Academy.

Having a lot of money thanks to the more or less dubious activities of his father and the decorative paintings or posters he gets orders from, he spends it, multiplying adventures, jokes and antics, with ostentation, in a bohemian and anarchist climate. With Flouquet and the brothers Pierre Bourgeois and Victor Bourgeois, he collaborates in the four issues, from April to September 1919, of the magazine Au volant, directed by Pierre Bourgeois. With his friends he discovered cubism and futurism. Works by Flouquet and posters, followed by Magritte”s non-figurative paintings, were exhibited in 1919 and 1920 at the Brussels Art Center directed by Aimé Declercq. At this second exhibition Magritte meets in January E. L. T. Mesens, who will be hired as a piano teacher for his brother Paul.

In the spring of 1920, René Magritte met again by chance at the Botanical Garden of Brussels Georgette Berger whom he had not seen since 1914. From December 1920 to October 1921 he does his military service at the Beverloo camp, near Antwerp, where Pierre Bourgeois is also stationed, then at Bourg-Léopold, later at the Ministry of War. His father was penniless and prosecuted for fraud. From November 1921 until 1924 Magritte worked as a draughtsman with the painter Victor Servranckx, whom he had met at the Academy, in the Peters-Lacroix wallpaper factory in Haren. On June 28, 1922 Magritte married Georgette Berger and in August the couple moved to Laeken.

Meeting with the Dada movement and constitution of the surrealist group of Brussels

In 1922, Magritte met Marcel Lecomte and in December 1923 Camille Goemans who, together with E. L. T. Mesens, introduced him to the Dada milieu. He owes Lecomte, or according to Louis Scutenaire, Mesens, his greatest artistic emotion: the discovery of a reproduction of Giorgio De Chirico”s Song of Love (1914). “My eyes saw thought for the first time,” he wrote, recalling this revelation.

In February 1924 Magritte, giving up his job at the Lacroix wallpaper factory, briefly stayed in Paris in search of a new job. Back in Brussels he set up his own business, creating from 1924 to 1928 projects for films, theaters, car companies, Alfa Romeo and Citroën, or companies, the Norine House, the Minet Establishments, the Neuhaus chocolate maker, the Vanderborght House, Primevère, the Thila Naghel lingerie. In October 1924, Magritte, through aphorisms, and Mesens participate in the review 391, directed by Francis Picabia and plan to launch, with Goemans and Lecomte, a new Dadaist review, Période, modelled on that of Picabia but sunk before its birth by a leaflet launched by Paul Nougé, then will found in March 1925 the review Œsophage (only one issue).

The coming together of the Correspondence group, which in 1924 and 1925 brought together Nougé, Goemans and Lecomte, with Mesens and Magritte, their drafting of a common tract in September and October 1926 against Géo Norge and Jean Cocteau, which was joined by the musician André Souris, and their joint participation in 1927 in the last issue of the review Marie. Bi-monthly newspaper for the beautiful youth, created by Mesens in June 1926, mark the beginnings of the constitution of the surrealist group of Brussels, which join in July Louis Scutenaire and Irene Hamoir. In 1926, Magritte signed a contract with Paul-Gustave van Hecke, husband of the fashion designer Norine and a friend of Mesens, who bought his work and wrote his first article about the painter in the magazine Sélection in March 1927. In April 1927 he exhibited, with a preface by Van Heck and Nougé, at the gallery Le Centaure, where Goemans worked, about fifty of his paintings, including The Lost Jockey, one of his first surrealist paintings, painted in 1926. On this occasion, he met Scutenaire, whom Goemans and Nougé had met shortly before. Magritte illustrates for the Muller and Samuel company its 1926-1927 and 1927-1928 fur catalogs, the latter published with texts by Nougé.

Meeting with Parisian surrealism

In September 1927, Magritte left Belgium and stayed in Perreux-sur-Marne (Val-de-Marne) until July 1930. He met the surrealists (André Breton, Paul Éluard, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí) and participated in their activities. In Paris he exhibited at the gallery opened by Goemans and in Brussels in January 1928 at the gallery L”Époque, directed by Mesens, the preface to the catalog being written by Nougé and countersigned by Goemans, Lecomte, Mesens, Scutenaire and Souris. In 1929, he publishes Le Sens propre, a series of five tracts each reproducing one of his paintings with a poem by Goemans, and Les Mots et les images in La Révolution surréaliste. During the summer, he visited Dalí in Cadaqués where he met with Éluard and Gala. André Breton advocated joining the Communist Party and Nougé opposed it. However, relations between the Brussels and Parisian Surrealists remained difficult, and René Magritte fell out with André Breton over a Christ pendant worn by Georgette Magritte.

The crisis of 1929 arrived in Europe and René Magritte had to return to Belgium in 1930, the various contracts that allowed him to live having been broken. He settled in Essenghem street in Jette and in 1931 presented an exhibition in Brussels organized by Mesens, with a preface by Nougé. The following year he joined the Belgian Communist Party and met Paul Colinet. Between 1931 and 1936, he participated in a small advertising business, a food activity that he certainly did not carry out by vocation and which extended sporadically between 1918 and 1965.

Magritte exhibited in 1933 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and in 1934 drew The Rape for the cover of André Breton”s Qu”est-ce que le surréalisme? In 1936, he had his first exhibition in New York, at the Julien Levy Gallery, met Marcel Mariën the following year and stayed in London where he exhibited in 1938 at the London Gallery of Mesens. From February to April 1940, Magritte directed the magazine L”Invention collective with Ubac (two issues). Five days after the German invasion of Belgium, he left Brussels on May 15, 1940 with Raoul and Agui Ubac, meeting Scutenaire and Irène Hamoir at the train station (Georgette lived there with her sister Léontine and especially with Paul Colinet). The group left Paris for Carcassonne where the poet Joë Bousquet lived. The painter, who arrived on May 23, stayed there for three months. Upon his return to Brussels in August, René Magritte, who in 1936 had fallen in love with the British artist Sheila Legge (who in July 1937 created a performance in Trafalgar Square during the International Exhibition of Surrealism in London), and Georgette Magritte, who had begun an affair with Paul Colinet, were reconciled.

Renoir period and cow period

From 1943 to 1945, Magritte used the technique of the impressionists during his period of surrealism “en plein soleil” or “Renoir period”. Between 1943 and 1947, the first books dedicated to him were published: Les Images défendues de Nougé, Magritte de Mariën.

Under the pen of Christian Dotremont, the September 8-9, 1945 edition of the newspaper Le Drapeau rouge announces that Magritté has joined the Belgian Communist Party. Aware that he could not change its positions and anticipating his exclusion, he quickly left. Magritte exhibited for the first time in New York in 1947 at the Hugo Gallery directed by Alexandre Iolas, who presented his paintings again in May 1948, in his new gallery in 1951 and 1952, and in Milan in 1953. The relationship between the painter and the dealer, who for commercial reasons did not appreciate either his “Renoir period” or his “cow period” and rather commissioned variations or replicas of old works, would often deteriorate, but Iolas would present or organize exhibitions of his works until Magritte”s death.

In March 1948, Magritte painted in six weeks some forty paintings and gouaches in garish tones (“cow period”) intended, in a typically surrealist act, to confuse Parisian dealers and scandalize good French taste. They were exhibited at the Galerie du Faubourg and prefaced by Scutenaire (Les Pieds dans le plat). Irène Hamoir bequeathed many of these works to the Brussels museum.

Time for retrospectives

From 1952 to 1956, Magritte directed the magazine La Carte d”après nature, presented in the form of a postcard. In 1952 and 1953, he created Le Domaine enchanté, eight panels for the mural decoration of the casino in Knokke-le-Zoute; in 1957, La Fée ignorante for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Charleroi, and, in 1961, Les Barricades mystérieuses for the Palais des Congrès in Brussels. A first retrospective exhibition of his work was organized in 1954 by Mesens, at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Magritte”s success comes slowly thanks to the merchant Iolas, from 1957, and to America. In April 1965, he left for Ischia in Italy to improve his health and passed through Rome, before visiting the United States for the first time in December for a retrospective exhibition at the MOMA, which was subsequently shown in Chicago, Berkeley and Pasadena.

In June 1966 and June 1967, the Magrittes spent a vacation in Italy with Scutenaire and Irene Hamoir. On August 4, a new retrospective opened at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.

Death

Magritte died at his home, 97, rue des Mimosas in Schaerbeek, on August 15, 1967 in the early afternoon at age sixty-eight. He is buried in the communal cemetery of Schaerbeek; his wife, who died in 1986, lies next to him. Since 2009, the tomb is classified as a monument and site by the Brussels Region.

“A crate near his crib, the recovery of a sailing balloon stranded on the roof of the family home, the vision of a painter painting in the cemetery … three childhood memories that the artist will keep all his life, “summarizes a biography of Magritte.

Magritte highlights our difficulty to make the reality of the world coincide with our mental images. He developed a real pictorial alphabet by using recurring motifs: the apple, the bird, the man in the bowler hat, the fragmented bodies… His images are often hidden behind or in other images, combining two possible levels of reading, the visible and the invisible.

His paintings often play on the discrepancy between an object and its representation. For example, one of his most famous paintings is an image of a pipe with the text “This is not a pipe” underneath (The Betrayal of Images, 1928-29). It is in fact a question of considering the object as a concrete reality and not according to a term that is both abstract and arbitrary. To explain what he wanted to represent through this work, Magritte said: “The famous pipe, I have been reproached enough! And yet, can you fill my pipe? No, it is not, it is only a representation. So if I had written under my painting ”This is a pipe”, I would have lied!”

Magritte”s painting questions its own nature, and the action of the painter on the image. Painting is never a representation of a real object, but the action of the painter”s thought on this object. Magritte reduced reality to an abstract thought rendered in formulas dictated by his penchant for mystery: “I take care, as far as possible, to make only paintings that arouse mystery with the precision and enchantment necessary for the life of ideas,” he declared. His mode of representation, which appears voluntarily neutral, academic, even scholastic, highlights a powerful work of deconstruction of the relationships that things have in reality.

Among the objects that contribute to making his paintings impenetrable enigmas, one object appears in a particularly recurrent way: a black, glossy sphere, split in the middle, which appears in numerous works, in extremely different arrangements and sizes. Often described as a “bell”, although it does not have the same shape, it has been successively interpreted as a black eye, the representation of a female sex, or a simple geometrical shape. The artist, with a sense of humor that is often evident in his paintings, leaves intact the mystery of an object that focuses attention while resisting interpretation.

Magritte excels in the representation of mental images. For Magritte, the visible reality must be approached in an objectal way. He possesses a decorative talent that manifests itself in the geometrical arrangement of the representation. The essential element in Magritte”s work is his innate distaste for plastic, lyrical, pictorial painting. Magritte wanted to liquidate everything that was conventional. “The art of painting can only really be limited to describing an idea that shows a certain resemblance to the visible that the world offers us” he declared. For him, reality should certainly not be approached from the angle of the symbol. Among the most representative paintings of this idea, La Clairvoyance (1936), shows us a painter whose model is an egg placed on a table. On the canvas, the painter draws a bird with spread wings.

Another painting, The Forbidden Reproduction (1937), shows a man with his back to a mirror, which does not reflect the man”s face but his back. In the same way, painting is not a mirror of reality.

Painter of the metaphysical and the surreal, Magritte treated the obvious with a corrosive humor, a way to undermine the foundation of things and the spirit of seriousness. He slipped between things and their representation, images and words. Instead of inventing techniques, he preferred to go to the bottom of things, to use the painting which becomes the instrument of a knowledge inseparable from the mystery. “Magritte is a great painter, Magritte is not a painter”, wrote Scutenaire in 1947.

Musée Magritte Museum

The Magritte Museum is housed in an old neoclassical building dating from the end of the 18th century, part of an architectural complex built after the fire of the Coudenberg Palace in 1731. Over the centuries, the building has been transformed by successive owners into a hotel, a jewelry store and finally a museum.

The Place Royale and the buildings surrounding it are a historical testimony of Belgium under the Ancien Régime and of its independence. It was on this square that the enthronement ceremony of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, King of the Belgians, took place on July 21, 1831, fifty years after its construction. The building was then transformed into a hotel for travelers for more than a century, before being sold to a jeweler in the early twentieth century.

In 1951, the facades and porticoes lining the Place Royale were recognized for their architectural and historical interest and were definitively protected from any modification by a classification order on the Belgian heritage list.

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium took over the premises in 1962 and the Altenloh Hotel was transformed into a museum. Major renovation work was carried out in the 1980s and the interior of the building was completely rebuilt.

The importance of the collection of works by René Magritte and his international reputation merit a space dedicated to the communication of the artist and his work. In 2007, the project of a future Magritte museum in the former Altenloh hotel was born; the works started the following year and were completed in 2009.

The collection of works by René Magritte that earned him a museum was held by the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. This collection is the largest in the world and covers all of the artist”s different periods; moreover, it is very diversified, with paintings, drawings, gouaches, posters, advertising works, letters, photographs, sculptures, films and other documents.

The bulk of the collection comes from donations from the following people: Georgette Magritte, Irène Scutenaire-Hamoir, Mrs. Germaine Kieckens, the first wife of the famous cartoonist Hergé, Maurice Rapin and Mirabelle Dors, the Magritte Foundation, the ULB, as well as private loans.

Irène Scutenaire-Hamoir”s bequest to the museum includes numerous works by the painter: more than twenty paintings, twenty gouaches, forty drawings, etc. These works were hung on the walls of their house located on rue de la Luzerne, notably :

The Magritte Museum”s collection also includes more than 300 photographic prints that trace Magritte”s life: his family, his formative years, his friends and his wife Georgette. Photography was essential to his art and these pictures were used to create his paintings.

Since 2010, an exchange policy has been in place with the de Menil Foundation in Houston (Texas, USA) and some works held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) have been loaned for a period of four months. In March 2012, a series of works on loan from a private collector of English origin was exhibited.

René Magritte Museum

A René Magritte museum has also been installed since 1999 in the house he lived in with his wife Georgette from 1930 to 1954, at 135, rue Esseghem, in Jette. The artist painted half of his work there, including the first version of The Empire of Lights, in 1949. This museum presents in particular the furnished living room in its original state, the studio – he painted in his dining room – and the Dongo studio at the bottom of his garden, where the artist carried out his advertising work. He drew much inspiration from the interior of this apartment in his paintings (sash window, fireplace, door handles, staircase, aviary, etc.). Upstairs, the museum presents a biographical exhibition: there are some original works (drawings, gouaches, watercolors), a collection of personal objects and original documents (magazines, letters, surrealist leaflets). An exhibition entitled “Les Magrittes disparus” also presents about thirty destroyed works that have been reconstituted (same style and format) based on archives provided by David Sylvester. The theft of the painting Olympia took place there in 2009; the painting has now been returned.

Magritte House

The Magritte house where the artist grew up is located in Châtelet and is open to the public. This house, often represented in his works, was an important source of inspiration for Magritte because of the decorative elements it contains and the tragic story of his mother”s suicide, to which some of his paintings allude.

: document used as a source for the writing of this article.

Writings on Magritte

The logo of Apple Records, the Beatles” record company, is created by British graphic designer Gene Mahon. The green Granny Smith apple is inspired by Magritte”s painting The Game of Mourre bought by Paul McCartney.

The song Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War by American singer Paul Simon appears on his 1983 album Hearts and Bones.

External links

Sources

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