Saturday, August 3, 2013


Belgian artist, Rene Magritte, was born November 21, 1898 to a tailor and textile merchant father and housewife mother.  He was the oldest of the family children who began drawing lessons at the age of 12.  Little else is known about his childhood.

In 1912, his mother committed suicide, causing the family tremendous public humiliation, having made several failed attempts in the past.  Soon after, Magritte began painting and by 1915 he'd completed his first impressionist painting.  For the next two years he studied at the Academie Royale de Beaux Arts in Brussels.  Thinking it a waste of time, he left the school.  Magritte's paintings at this point were representative of the popular movements of the time, namely cubism and futurism.

In 1921 Magritte enlisted in the military and served in Leopoldsburg, Austria, and Antwerp.  Leaving the service a year later he married childhood friend, Georgette Berger.  His first job was with a wallpaper factory, designing posters and advertisements for the company.  He sold his first art work, a portrait of singer Evelyn Brelin, in 1923.  This opened the door to a contract at Galerie la Centaure, making him a full time artist.

Magritte's work now began reflecting his ideals as opposed to the popular movement of the time.  Many associate his work with Surrealism, the movement where reality and imagination are fused together, confusing the viewers and forcing one to contemplate the image.

Rene's first exhibition in 1927 in Brussels turned out to be a flop.  The critics hated all 61 pieces in the show.  He moved to Paris with his wife where he befriended artists in the French community.  Not long there, he moved back to Brussels and returned to work in the wallpaper factory.

The period between 1943 - 1944  brought a change in Magritte's work, reflecting the influence of impressionist painter Auguste Renoir.  It was WWII and times were tough and to survive he resorted to forging copies of works by Picasso, Braque, and Chirico, which he sold to the Germans.  After the war he returned to creating Surrealist art.  One of his noted works at this time, "The Promenades of Euclid", he painted in 1955.  It is a painting within a painting which tricks the viewer's eye into seeing it as just one image.

He once said of his paintings, "I paint visible images that conceal nothing, they evoke mystery, and indeed when one sees my pictures one asks oneself the simple question, 'What does it mean?'  It doesn't mean anything because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."

Rene Magritte's most recognizable work, painted in 1964, is titled "The Son of Man."  This iconic painting features a man in a bowler hat and suit, with a green apple in front of his face.  What does it mean?  Like Magritte said, "It is unknowable."  Magritte died in Brussels on August 15, 1967, of pancreatic cancer.

Image above, "The Son of Man"  1964, by Rene Francois Ghislain Magritte.

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